Eurasia vs United States

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

The second Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting in Manila slams U.S. unilateralism on issues relating to terrorism and environment.

ASIAN and European parliamentarians who attended the Second Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP II) held in Manila from August 26 to 28 jointly condemned the growing phenomenon of American unilateralism.They demanded that in the interest of global environmental protection the U.S. sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol and endorse the outcome of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism held in Durban last year.

A large majority of the parliamentarians supported the establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC). Even those countries with reservations about the ICC, such as the Philippines, were not opposed to it in principle. However, these countries fear that the ICC may potentially be used as a weapon against governments by terrorists and insurgent groups and are waiting to ascertain the details of the ICC's proposed plan to counter such situations. Regarding the U.S.' proposed military action against Iraq, there was complete agreement among the delegates that any full-scale military action required the consent of the U.N. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had been subjected to heavy lobbying by the U.S. administration, but she confirmed that she was not prepared to change her country's stance in the matter.

The ASEP is the overseeing parliamentary body whose meetings parallel the biannual inter-governmental Asia Europe Meetings (ASEM). The next ASEM session will take place in September in Denmark. The ASEM and ASEP meetings were inaugurated in 1996 in Strasbourg and Bangkok respectively.

At the Manila meeting, the European side included delegations from the European Parliament and the national parliaments of Belgium, Spain, Italy and Germany. The largest Asian delegations came from China, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. The meeting adopted statements on terrorism, the environment and human rights.

There was agreement among the delegates that all countries should deny safe havens to terrorists, subject to a U.N. agreement on the definition of terrorism and terrorist organisations. Concern was expressed that any such definition must be capable of distinguishing between future Mandelas and future Osama bin Ladens. It was also agreed that there should be joint coordination and mutual assistance. In this context, it was felt that the current U.S. blockade of the sale of powerful night-vision equipment by E.U. countries to Iran, which would enable Iran to monitor the crossing of fugitive Taliban fighters from Afghanistan was nonsensical.

On matters regarding the environment, apart from the reference to the U.S.' failure to sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol, there was a general call to countries that have not yet ratified the Kyoto agreement to do so. There was a demand for the full implementation of the proposals made under Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit held in Rio ten years ago and also those made at the latest World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The human rights issue was the most controversial one. European and Chinese delegates clashed over the recent European Parliament (EP) resolutions on human rights issues. While the Chinese claimed that these amounted to interference in China's internal affairs and demonstrated dual standards. The Europeans maintained that they objected rountinely to death sentences throughout the world, including the U.S., and saw no reason to make an exception with regard to China. The European parliamentarians pointed out that the EP produced Annual Reports on human rights both in the E.U. and in the rest of the world. The governments of E.U. member-states were often critical of the EP's resolutions on human rights and this suggested that the EP was not operating under dual standards.

Despite this difference of opinion, the meeting agreed upon a text that called for positive action to enhance the position of women and children, and backed campaigns such as the one against child labour - 'I care for kids, do you?' - conducted by the National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries in the Philippines. The Philippine Foreign Minister Blas Opie said : "One quarter of all the people in the world still subsist on less than the equivalent of one American dollar a day. It is poverty that most threatens the rights proceeding from life - namely liberty and the free pursuit of happiness - as well as the rights of women and children, the right of nations to a healthy environment and to sustainable development." In the end, the elimination of terrorism, protection of the environment and the establishment of human rights require all of us to address the problems of poverty.

Asia and Europe represent the collective interests of more than two billion people and together both these continents account for more than half of the world's gross domestic product. Yet, in various international political forums, their importance seems to be understated. Countries of Asia and Europe are often divided between themselves and among themselves. Since its inception in 1996, the ASEM meetings have grown in importance. The scheduled meetings in Denmark and in Hanoi in 2004 can change that. But, for these meetings to have weight, the parallel parliamentary process must occur concurrently, in order to give authority to the building of an inter-continental consensus. It is in Europe's and Asia's mutual interest to do so.

As Rudyard Kipling said:

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!" (from "The Ballad of East and West").

Glyn Ford, MEP, was a member of the E.U. delegation to both the ASEP meetings in Strasbourg and Manila.

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