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In icy Beijing, PM will discuss global meltdown

By Sheela Bhatt in Beijing
Last updated on: October 23, 2008 21:58 IST
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At 8 degrees Celsius in China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will join a host of top leaders at the Asia-Europe Summit, deliberating ways to wriggle out of the current global financial meltdown.

Singh, who arrived in an icy Beijing on Thursday evening from a warmer Tokyo, said, "This the first time I am attending the Asia-Europe Summit as the prime minister. I sincerely hope that the meeting of minds between Europe and Asia will produce a solution to many global problems, including the international financial crisis."

On the margins of the ASEM Summit, in addition to meeting President Hu Jintao, Singh will meet his Pakistani counterpart Gilani, Bulgarian President Purvanov, Mongolian President Enkhbayar, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyan Tan Dung.

However, the important issue will be the deliberations over financial crisis.

Can Asia and Europe save each other by finding common survival strategy for their sinking economies in the crisis that has arrived from America?

Aptly, the summit theme is named, "Vision and Action: Towards a Win-win Solution".

If Singh, who has a formidable reputation as economist over the world, presents a pragmatic rescue plan through ASEM or the G-20-type of highest level of deliberations that can snatch the developing world from jaw of recession, then he can create history.

As the world is reeling under the eerie prospects of recession and uncertainty over reliability of global finance structure, ASEM is a godsend opportunity because developing world of Asia and some developing world of Europe, too, will be doubly hit because they will not be able to sustain development.

N. Ravi, Secretary (East), External Affairs Ministry, said, "At ASEM, one of the topics that will grab the attention of world leaders will be about how to sustain development in the developing countries.'

European and Asians will have many things to tell each other and learn from each other in time of crisis.

Initiated in 1996, ASEM is the biggest inter-governmental forum between Asia and Europe. It's a bridge between Europe and Asia to talk on economic, political and cultural issues. It is held every second year in Asia and Europe alternatively.

ASEM now has 45 partners, including 17 from Asia, i.e. the 10 ASEAN members, the ASEAN Secretariat, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Mongolia and 28 from Europe, i.e. the 27 EU members and the European Commission. With their GDP together making up more than 50 per cent and population and trade volume about 60% of the global total respectively.

In November 1994, the idea of Asia-Europe Meeting was initiated by Mr Goh Chok Tong, Prime Minister of Singapore, and was warmly welcomed by relevant parties. In March 1996, the First ASEM Summit was held in Bangkok, Thailand, marking the official birth of ASEM.

China has always been an active advocator ASEM.

According to Assistant Foreign Minister, Liu Jieyi, "The 7th summit will be held under special international circumstances. The three interwoven major challenges, including the turbulent international financial market, energy and climate change and food safety have made the international situation even more complicated."

While briefing the media , before the event ,he said, "The main activities of the summit will be held on the afternoon of October 24 and throughout Oct 25, including the welcome ceremony, group photos, opening ceremony, plenary session and closing ceremony. President Hu Jintao will attend some of those activities. Premier Wen Jiabao will chair the meetings and host a dinner for the guests. After the summit, leaders of the four coordinators, including China, France, Brunei and the European Commission will host press conference.'

Speaking on financial crisis issue to be debated in ASEM , Jieyi said, "The ASEM partners will decide the specific form to illustrate the outcome of their discussions. As the host country, China will listen widely to the opinions of and make joint efforts with the other partners to ensure the suggestions of the summit on coping with the financial crisis serve the common interest of all the partners and the international community as well." Like the Beijing Olympics, this event is carefully planned and executed.

A Chinese official said, 'We are also committed to hosting a green summit and have taken a number of "green" measures, including making and packaging articles for the summit by using green and environmentally friendly materials, choosing reusable materials to decorate the conference rooms and the zero-emission clean shuttle buses between the press center and the conference hall. We hope to further demonstrate Asia and Europe's determination and efforts to cope with climate change and realize sustainable development during this summit."    

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Sheela Bhatt in Beijing