Ask scientists whether Europe and Asia are one big continent or two: they will look at geography, geology and history. But just look at the daily news: Europe and Asia face the same global challenges, the same threats. Dialogue and cooperation between us are more crucial than ever. The institution of a great forum for our continents – the Asia-Europe Meeting – is even more meaningful today than it was 20 years ago, when Asia-Europe Meeting kicked off.
We share an incandescent neighborhood, the Middle East. We have the same interest in addressing the terrorist threat, and stem the flow of foreign fighters converging on the region from Europe and Asia alike. We are all facing a global rise in human mobility: our European public opinion often forgets about the massive movements of migrants and refugees in the other continents, including Asia. Some of the underlying causes of these fluxes are also issues of common concern: conflicts, economic imbalances, natural disasters linked to climate change.
Europe and Asia need one another. Asia is one of the fastest growing regions on Earth. To keep the current pace, improved connections between our continents will be vital. And connectivity is a key word at ASEM.
But it is not only about connecting Asia and Europe by sea, air or railway, but also digitally and through people-to-people contacts – between businesspeople, students, academics and tourists. An increase in trade and investments in both directions must be a priority for all of us. For this reason, the European Commission has decided to work full time to strengthen our existing trade agreements and build new ones.
But the greatest threat to Asia’s development is instability. Last May I attended the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, one of the main global dialogues on security and defense. I was impressed by a growing demand for cooperation between the European Union and Asian countries on security issues. The EU is not just a big free trade area, it is also a global security provider. And we (in the EU) are an increasingly relevant partner for peace and security for the whole of “Eurasia”.
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