International Relations & Defence - Page 3

Drug Trafficking and Countermeasures in Turkey: A General Assessment

Drug trafficking has been on the global agenda for more than a century.1 In simplest terms, it is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.2 Globally, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that between 149 and 272 million people, or 3.3% to 6.1% of the population aged 15-64, used illicit substances at least once in the previous year.3 These numbers are worrying, especially for countries on inter-regional trafficking routes where there are numerous non-state actors involved in manufacturing, importing, exporting, distributing, dispensing or possessing drugs across the borders.

Turkey is one such country; with its unique geographical location at the center of the drug smuggling crossroads, it has been one of the most negatively affected countries by drug trafficking in Eurasia. It has been a transit country, where drug trafficking has provided a breeding ground for other organized crime activities and a financial relief for Kurdish terrorist organization Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan (PKK) for years. These harsh realities necessitated Turkey to take concrete steps to fight against drug trafficking at the national, regional, and international levels and embrace a cooperative, multi-faceted, and decisive approach. The following sections contain detailed information regarding the major trafficking routes affecting Turkey, drug trafficking-PKK terrorism nexus, and Turkey’s domestic and international efforts against drug trafficking with particular emphasis on the aspect of intelligence sharing.

Major Drug Trafficking Routes Affecting Turkey

According to 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report published by the US Department of State, Turkey is affected by three main heroin drug trafficking routes, namely: the Balkan route, the northern (Black Sea) route and the eastern Mediterranean route.4 In addition, starting from early 1990s, traffickers began to use a new route called the ‘Silk Road,’ where the inadequate border controls between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries allowed traffickers to transit illicit drugs from Afghanistan to Russia, Ukraine, Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltic and the Nordic countries.5

Given its excellent strategic location between Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, Turkey acts as a transit route for opium and its derivates originating from Afghanistan6 en route to Western Europe, for methamphetamine from Iran for markets in the Far East, for captagon tablets originating in Eastern Europe en route to countries in the Middle East, and cannabis from Lebanon, Albania, and Afghanistan.7 As an outcome of this high rate of drug trafficking, approximately 75% of heroin seized in Europe has a Turkish and Kurdish connection; having either transited through Turkey, been processed there, or been seized in connection with Turkish criminal syndicates.8 According to more recent sources, the percentage is even higher; Robins indicates that 90% of the heroin trade is controlled by Turkish and Kurdish gangs.9 This trend is no different within the country. Many major traffickers based in Turkey are ethnic Kurds and many of the same individuals and families have been involved in smuggling contraband for years.10

Indeed, there are other factors fueling drug trafficking in Turkey and the region. To name a few, smuggling has a long tradition within the east and southeast regions of Turkey. Common ties of language, culture, and religion among the residents of southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwest Iran encouraged the smugglers to continue their business.11  As clearly put by a Kurdish smuggler living in Van, a city in eastern Turkey, “in this region, smuggling is part of [the] economy. If it weren’t for animal husbandry and smuggling, the people in this region would not have survived for centuries. Smuggling is a way of life here and is not something negative.”12 Another fueling factor is high profit margins; the market is so lucrative that a kilogram of heroin worth $1,000 to $2,000 in Thailand or Afghanistan rises to $6,000 to $8,000 in Turkey and $20,000 to $80,000 in Germany with a street value of $200,000.13  These factors combined indicate how profitable drug trafficking business is for illegal non-state actors, such as organized crime groups and terrorist organizations in need of instant money especially for operational capability.

Drug Trafficking-PKK Terrorism Nexus

It is by and large the case that politically motivated terrorist organizations, mostly due to financial burden, have established links with the illegal businesses. The PKK is no exception to this. The ongoing lawlessness, disorder, and poor sociopolitical and socioeconomic conditions of the region paved the way for the organization to carry out illegal operations to finance its activities. In this context, the PKK aimed to exploit a considerable amount of money in a short time span in order to be capable of continuing its fight against conventional Turkish forces. Towards this end, the organization was involved in the taxation of drug shipments, the protection of drug traffickers throughout the southeastern Turkey,14 and illegal drug trade.15

Drug trafficking-the PKK nexus is not mere speculation; there are clear evidences regarding PKK’s involvement in the business. To name a few, for example, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) concluded that nearly 178 Kurdish organizations were suspected of illegal drug trade involvement in 1992. In addition, Germany’s Chief Prosecutor maintained that 80% of the drugs seized in Europe were linked to the PKK in 1994.16 As expected, the revenue the PKK has raised out of drugs is considerably high. According to Turkish intelligence sources who wished to remain anonymous, the revenues of the PKK earned from the control over the drug as well as arms trafficking between Central Asia and Europe during the first half of the 1990s vary between 5 to 7 billion dollars a year.17 The numbers suggest that the PKK has found the financial relief it has sought through drugs; considering that these large sums are used to purchase arms and maintain the core military cadre controlling the military wing of the organization.

PKK’s trafficking activities are interlinked with other Turkish organized crime networks as well; traffickers are thus able to take advantage of the freight traffic into Europe. In addition, with almost 8 million Turks and Kurds living in Europe, half of whom visit Turkey each year, there are tremendous opportunities to take out the drugs and bring in the cash in return.18 It has also been alleged that persons whom Turkish state had granted some rights and privileges as the civilian counterinsurgency forces in southeastern Turkey contributed to the untrammeled growth of the drugs trade through eastern Turkey, and enabled criminal networks to gain control over parts of the Turkish state apparatus.19 Drug smuggling, therefore, constitutes a major part of the PKK’s financial apparatus, given the involvement of the organization in almost all phases of drug trafficking to sustain its activities. Turkey, in response, is indeed taking counter measures at home and abroad to prevent the activities of organized crime groups and terrorist organizations both to maintain its national security and contribute to regional stability.

Turkey’s Efforts Against Drug Trafficking

As mentioned earlier, Turkey’s struggle against drug trafficking is multi-dimensional and multi-level. To begin with the domestic level, first and foremost, the essential need for the fight against addictive substances is stated under the Turkish Constitution. According to the Article 58, “the state shall take all the necessary measures to protect young people from alcohol addiction, illicit drugs, delinquency, gambling, illiteracy and other similar bad habits.”20 To this end, Turkish law enforcement organizations focus their efforts on stemming the traffic of drugs and intercepting precursor chemicals. The Department of Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime of the Turkish National Police (TNP), Gendarmerie, and Coast Guard are all part of the Ministry of Interior and have significant anti-narcotics responsibilities.21 The other state agencies that actively participate in the struggle are Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Ministry of National Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Supreme Council of Radio and Television, Directorate General for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Directorate General of Turkish Grain Board,22 and Undersecretariat of Customs. This extensive list, along with a considerable number of local authorities and NGOs assisting state agencies, manifests Turkey’s commitment to disrupt narcotics trafficking at home.

To illustrate Turkey’s efforts to fulfill this commitment, the country has adopted a series of new pieces of legislation in late 1990s; the most operationally important change was most likely the new legislation that would permit international controlled deliveries of illegal drugs.23 Also, more recently, Turkish International Academy against Drugs and Organized Crime (TADOC) organized 60 training programs focusing on drug law enforcement, intelligence analysis, illegal immigration and human smuggling, interview techniques, surveillance techniques, and antiterrorism training for judges and prosecutors for 1500 local and regional law enforcement officers and trained a total of 639 Turkish officers in computer-based training centers throughout Turkey in 2009.24 In addition, during 2010, Turkish counternarcotics officials began a series of efforts to address the increase in narcotic smugglers using international airports to smuggle illegal drugs either from Turkey or through Turkey. Since the inception of this program in January 2010, 133 couriers were arrested and over 329 kilograms of illegal drugs were seized, a dramatic increase from the previous year.25 It should also be noted that the increase in the quantity of heroin seized between 2002-2007 is five-fold,26 thanks to Turkey’s momentum and dedication in institution building, training, and supply and demand reduction.

Turkey’s global strategy on the fight against illicit trafficking of drugs, on the other hand, is based on the principle that the issue can only be addressed by extensive cooperation, exchange of information and expertise within the international community.27 Under this principle, Turkey has concluded more than 65 bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements as of 200628 to continue its anti-trafficking efforts and contribute to related projects together with the international community, specifically the ones addressing the problem and its implications in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, three countries forming the “Golden Route” for traffickers.

For this purpose, Turkey has assisted other countries to take substantial steps to address the drug-related issues in Afghanistan not only by hosting and attending international meetings such as Paris Pact Round Table Meeting, but also funding and planning training programs for Afghan law enforcement officers.29 Its contribution to solve the drug-related problems emanating from Iran should not be underestimated, either. In 2008, Turkey and Iran signed agreements to cooperate in the fight against illicit drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.30 To strengthen the cooperation, Iranian President Ahmadinejad has announced a newly passed law on an Iran-Turkey agreement to work together in the same areas in 2011.31 In a similar vein, Pakistan and Turkey have agreed to take measures to “broaden an deepen” security cooperation and greater interaction between their intelligence agencies against terrorism, illicit arms and, drug trafficking, under the name “intensified cooperation” in 2009.32 President Zardari and his Turkish counterpart Gul agreed to further deepen, broaden, and strengthen the partnership between two countries in every field for better results in 2011.33 These agreements suggest that Turkey aims to take preemptive measures against drugs entering its soils from Central Asia, where the illicit cultivation and production is the highest in the world.

Indeed, Turkey has not directed its attention solely towards the Golden Route; there are numerous bilateral agreements signed between Turkey and European countries affected by drug trafficking. To name a few, for instance, under Turkey-UK Strategic Partnership, two countries agreed to strengthen ties and deepen the level of cooperation on the fight against terrorism, aviation security, illegal drugs trade, illegal immigration, and other organized crimes, and also to regularly update their joint assessments of the threats in 2007.34 A similar cooperation mechanism exists among Turkey, the Netherlands and Germany. Turkey accepted to share wiretap evidence with those countries as a part of its efforts; specifically the close relations established between MIT, Turkish National Intelligence Organization, and German Verfassungschutz generated positive results in terms of their fight against drug trafficking and PKK.35 Additionally, in line with Turkey’s EU accession process, Turkey became a full member of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) after the European Parliament ratified Turkey’s participation in 2006, following a successful EU twinning project.36

Turkey cooperates closely with the US as well. Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Embassy in Turkey work closely with Turkish officials to offer regional training opportunities to Turkish Law Enforcement officials throughout the country and at the TADOC center to provide additional investigative and prosecutorial tools to Turkish officials and their international counterparts.37 The US government also provides Turkish National Police with equipment support for intelligence gathering and interdiction operations and assists Turkish Customs to improve interdiction at Turkey’s main land border crossings with Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Georgia.38 Most notably, to break the drug trafficking-terrorism nexus, the US imposed sanctions on the PKK to cut off its funding resources under Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, froze any assets some senior PKK leaders might have in the US, and banned US citizens from engaging in any business with these persons.39

In addition to bilateral agreements, Turkey has ratified major multilateral agreements and international conventions in the combat against addictive substances. These include, but not limited to, Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) and Protocol amending the convention (1972), Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988), Agreement Between the European Community and Turkey on Precursors and Chemical Substances frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotics drugs or psychotropic substances (2004).40 Turkey also actively contributes to the work of most relevant major international and regional platforms such as the UNODC (the Commission on Narcotic Drugs-CND, the Paris Pact), the International Narcotics Control Board, the Pompidou Group, the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and Economic Cooperation Organization.41 Still, intelligence sharing plays a critical, yet overlooked role in the cooperation to prevent trafficking. In terms of this matter, Turkey has been a member of Central and Eastern Europe Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) since 1994, concentrated its focus on tight coordination with its neighbors, and presented proposals for the “Istanbul Platform”, which contained the creation of a regional coordination and analysis unit for Turkey and its neighbors, and also the setting up of a regular dialogue between drug and police liaison officers from several countries stationed in Turkey, other Balkan countries, and in some countries of the South Caucasus.42 Additionally, FBI’s Office of International Operations runs the Legal Attaché Program in Turkey.

Conclusion and Way Forward

Just as terrorism, drug trafficking can be reduced and contained, yet cannot be totally eliminated. Inter-regional and intra-regional drug trafficking is likely to continue, given the high and growing demand for drugs in destination countries and high production rate, lawlessness, poverty, and instability in the source countries in Central Asia. In addition, so long as the windfall gains and profit margins remain high, terrorist organizations are likely to continue their involvement in drug taxation, protection, production, and trafficking. Accordingly, Turkey, as an outcome of its location, is likely to remain as a key transit country for drug traffickers for a considerable period of time in the future.

Turkey’s national, regional, and international efforts against drug trafficking appear to be effective, yet better results can be achieved through more intelligence cooperation and case-by-case collaboration. Even though intelligence and security cooperation is problematic due to the fundamental tension between an increasingly networked world and highly compartmentalized national intelligence gathering,43 cooperation at international level has become an effective tool of foreign policy conducting, of using that intelligence for ensuring their national security,44 and of combating drug trafficking and terrorism nourishing from organized crime. In addition, liaison arrangements reduce the risks of collection operations against adversaries, particularly if the collaborating party has ethnic, geographical, or historical ties that offer improved cover, language skills, or physical access to the target.45 Under this light, Eurasian countries on the critical trafficking routes can initiate a regional intelligence sharing mechanism where Turkey, with its location, mixed identity, and long-standing experience in fighting against drugs, may be the key actor in intelligence gathering against targets that European governments have difficulty tracking.46

Without a doubt, establishing such mechanism is a difficult task. However, similar mechanisms established earlier in the past, such as “5 Eyes” group that permitted the division of effort in sharing signals intelligence (SIGINT) among the US, UK, Commonwealth countries, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Turkey47 in 1947, or Treaty of Periphery (TRIDENT) initiated by Turkish, Israeli, and Iranian intelligence in 1958 to provide intelligence cooperation against the rising tide of Arab nationalism48 prove its feasibility.  In the same vein, a similar intelligence sharing and liaison arrangement mechanism can be initiated in Eurasia with the support of specifically Western intelligence services that are operationally more capable, experienced, and knowledgeable of drug trafficking.

It should be noted that establishing liaison relationships can be highly difficult and costly, even among close allies. There is always the risk that a weak power may be able to inflict considerable strategic damage on a great power by manipulating its asymmetric advantages in intelligence liaison relationships or by using its counterintelligence apparatus to effectively capture the great power’s intelligence system for its own purposes.49 It is also possible that some smaller countries in particular regions may lack regional SIGINT capabilities; in the Mediterranean region, for instance, the intelligence services cannot afford extensive global coverage with the possible exception of Israel and Turkey.50 Similarly, some advanced intelligence services may lack human intelligence (HUMINT) and suffer from insufficient numbers of linguists, difficulty accessing certain countries, and the challenges of infiltrating tribal organizations in Eurasia. There is also the problem of national interests. As one former director general of Britain’s Security Service notes, international intelligence sharing “is [still] something of an oxymoron,” since intelligence services embody “individual state power and national self interest.”51 Apart from these, differences between legal systems, the lack of knowledge of these differences, different law enforcement systems as well as diverging interests and cultural differences, excessive bureaucracies, endemic corruption,52 strict privacy laws are other obstacles that complicate the cross-border liaison arrangements and intelligence sharing.

In sum, drug trafficking is an international problem with growing and dangerous links to other criminal activities and terrorism. In Turkey’s context, PKK’s engagement in trafficking and marketing drugs is a sound example supporting this argument. Turkey remains strongly committed to disrupting drug trafficking and addressing its implications on its national security and regional security. Still, for Turkey and other actors, increasing the level and quality of cooperation with particular emphasis on an intelligence-driven approach is strongly needed to counter drug production and trafficking in Eurasia, given the complexity of emerging security threats, changing threat perceptions, and the incapability of states to address non-traditional threats alone in changing international relations environment. Thus, taking steps towards this end is a necessity, not an option for more effective future counter-trafficking policies and responses at national and regional levels.

Show 52 footnotes

  1. “World Drug Report 2009,” UNODC (New York: UN, 2009).
  2. “Drug Trafficking,” UNODC, 2010. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/drug-trafficking/index.html
  3. “The World Drug Report 2011,” UNODC (New York: UN, 2011). Available at:http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/WDR2011/World_Drug_Report_2011_ebook.pdf
  4. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia,” US Department of State, March 3, 2011. Available at: http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2011/vol1/156363.htm#turkey
  5. Vladimir Fenopetov, “The Drug Crime Threat to Countries Located on the ‘Silk Road’,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 4, No. 1 (2006): 5-13.
  6. Afghanistan is the major source of heroin, producing approximately 70-90% of the world’s supply of opium, which is converted to heroin. Conversion of local opium into heroin is increasingly common in Afghanistan because all Afghan-based drug traffic is destined to the lucrative illicit markets in Europe where the street price of heroin is 20-fold higher than in the areas close to the Afghan borders.
  7. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  8. Salih Fuat Sahin, “Case Studies In Terrorism-Drug Connection: The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and The Shining Path” (M.Sc diss., University of North Texas, 2001).
  9. Philip Robins, “Back From the Brink: Turkey’s Ambivalent Approaches to the Hard Drugs Issue,” Middle East Journal 62, No. 4 (Autumn 2008): 630-650.
  10. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  11. Salih Fuat Sahin.
  12. Ahmet Icduygu and Sule Toktas, “How Do Smuggling and Trafficking Operate via Irregular Border Crossings in the Middle East?,” International Migration 40, No. 6 (2002): 25-54.
  13. Salih Fuat Sahin.
  14. Philip Robins, 630-650.
  15. Salih Fuat Sahin.
  16. Michael P. Hankard and Saruhan S. Hatipoglu, “The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan (PKK),” United States Global Strategy Council, 1994. Available at: http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/studies5.htm
  17. Mustafa Kibaroglu, “Turkey’s Concerns About the State-Building Efforts in Iraq,” The Iranian Journal of International Affairs 18, No. 4 (2005): 443-454.
  18. Michele Steinberg, “PKK Terrorists Named ‘Drug Kingpins’; Nations Move Against Narcoterrorism,” Executive Intelligence Review, August 1, 2008 http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2008/3530pkk_terrorists.html
  19. Martin van Bruinessen, “Transnational Aspects of the Kurdish Question,” (working paper) (2000).
  20. “Agenda Item 4: Cooperation in the Field of Drugs,” Screening Chapter 24, Justice, Freedom and Security: Turkey’s Country Session, February 15, 2006.
  21. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  22. “Action Plan For the Implementation of National Policy and Strategy Document on Counteracting Addictive Substance and Substance Addiction,” Ministry of Interior in Turkey (2007).
  23. Philip Robins, 630-650.
  24. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  25. Ibid.
  26. Abdullah Bozkurt, “EU Cannot Sustain Drug Policy Without Turkey,” Today’s Zaman, November 7, 2009, http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/mobile.do?load=wapDetay&link=192242
  27. “Turkey’s Efforts Against The Drug Problem,” Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Available at: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkey_s-efforts-against-the-drug-problem.en.mfa
  28. “Agenda Item 4: Cooperation in the Field of Drugs.”
  29. “Turkey’s Efforts Against The Drug Problem.”
  30. “Iran, Turkey Ink Pact to Fight Drug Trafficking, Terrorism,” Thaindian News, August 15, 2008, http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/iran-turkey-ink-pact-to-fight-drug-trafficking-terrorism_10084243.html
  31. “Iran, Turkey to fight terror, narcotics,” Press TV, May 23, 2011. Available at: http://drugbustsworldwide.com/2011/05/iran-turkey-to-fight-terror-narcotics/
  32. “Pakistan, Turkey Resolve Against Terrorism,” Asia News, October 25, 2009, http://www.asianews.com.pk/13079/pakistan-turkey-resolve-against-terrorism.html
  33. “Pakistan, Turkey agree to deepen, broaden and strengthen partnership in every field,” The President of Pakistan Press Center, October 31, 2011. Avaiable at: http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/index.php?lang=en&opc=3&sel=3&id=763
  34. “Turkey UK Strategic Partnership 2007/2008,” Foreign and Commonwealth Office, October 25, 2007, http://www.fco.gov.uk/resources/en/news/2007/10/fco_not_251007_turkukstratpart
  35. Enis Berberoglu, “MIT’in Orta Asya Zirvesine Sabotaj,” Hurriyet, September 2, 1997, http://hurarsiv.hurriyet.com.tr/goster/haber.aspx?id=-262509&yazarid=6
  36. “2011 INCSR: Country Reports – Somalia Through Zambia.”
  37. Ibid.
  38. “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Turkey,” US Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (March 1996), http://www.hri.org/docs/USSD-INCSR/95/Europe/Turkey.html
  39. “Kongra-Gel’s Drug Kingpins,” VOA News, October 24, 2009, http://www.voanews.com/uspolicy/2009-10-25-voa4.cfm
  40. “Agenda Item 4: Cooperation in the Field of Drugs.”
  41. “Turkey’s Efforts Against The Drug Problem.”
  42. Vladimir Fenopetov, 5-13.
  43. Richard J. Aldrich, “Transatlantic Intelligence and Security Cooperation,” International Affairs 80, No.4 (2004): 732-733.
  44. Shlomo Shpiro, “The Communication of Mutual Security: Frameworks for European-Mediterranean Intelligence Sharing” (2001).
  45. Jennifer E. Sims, “Foreign Intelligence Liaison: Devils, Deals and Details,”International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 19, No. 2 (May 2006): 195-217.
  46. Stephane Lefabve, “Turkey’s Intelligence Community in Changing Times,” International Journal 61 No. 124 (2005-2006): 105-124.
  47. Derek Reveron, “Old Allies, New Friends: Intelligence-Sharing in the War on Terror,” Orbis 50, No. 3 (Summer 2006): 453-468.
  48. Shlomo Shpiro.
  49. Jennifer E. Sims, 195-217.
  50. Shlomo Shpiro.
  51. Stephen Lander, “International Intelligence Cooperation: An Inside Perspective,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17, No. 3 (October 2004): 481-493.
  52. Ludo Block, “Cross-Border Liaison and Intelligence: Practicalities and Issues,” in Clive Harfield, Allyson MacVean, John GD Grieve and David Phillips, eds. The Handbook of Intelligent Policing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Ten awkward questions to ask Crazy Crab, cartoonist who challenges China’s Great Firewall

EVERYONE is looking, but nobody knows who he is. Bloggers around the world, censors and guardians of the World Wide Web, national and foreign press. In recent weeks, there is too much talk about him, Crazy Crab, pseudonym of the first cartoonist who challenges China’s Great Firewall doing political satire. Hexie Farm is a political satire comic book and has attracted lots of attention from internet users all around the world, because it reveals the contradictions and the dark side of China’s society with one ruling Party and corrupted protagonists. Following the publication of Hexie Farm, the name of his comic, in the new list of Sina Weibo’s banned search terms and “sensitive words” (as “Tiananmen square”, “democracy” and “leadership change”), The Post Internazionale found Crazy Crab and gave him a voice through a unique and exclusive interview.

Hexie Farm is the first and most famous example of political cartoon and political satire in the history of contemporary China. Its popularity has spread beyond the Great Wall in Europe and the United States. But what does it mean to do political satire in China, today?

It’s hard to say what political satire means in China today. Public political satire is rare in China. Public critic on Chinese politics is dangerous. People might lost jobs, be detained or arrested for doing this.  Due to strict censorship, it seems that most Chinese political cartoonists lose their courage to criticize. But what a harmonious time we live! Every day, hilarious news of tragicomedies pops up from the corner of GFW. What a waste it would be if we remain silent at this.  Although no media in main land China dares to publish my cartoons, and the authority is trying hard to locate my cartoons and delete them, they are still got reposted to more audience.

 

Interview made by Maria Dolores Cabras. You can read it in full at the website of the international politics’ magazine Post Internazionale.

One of the Crazy Crabs's many cartoons
One of the Crazy Crabs's many cartoons

The regional implications of the Gilad Shalit deal

Many unexpected events happened this year in the Greater Middle East region, but an agreement between Hamas and Israel was maybe the least probable one. Now that Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped five years ago by Palestinian militants, is free in exchange for more than a thousand convicted Palestinians, we have to analyze what factors were  needed for this policy change and what does Hamas’s new approach to Israel mean to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Freed Gilad Shalit salutes Israeli PM Netanyahu
Freed Gilad Shalit salutes Israeli PM Netanyahu

Since day one of the imprisonment of Gilad Shalit, who was 19 years old when he was kidnapped, there was great pressure on the Israeli government to bring the soldier back home. The parents, the Israeli society, but also the Jewish and Zionist communities outside Israel lobbied for his release. Also  international actors tried to persuade Hamas to set Gilad free, or at least to give him the basic rights of a prisoner of war, which he was refused, like letting the Red Cross supervise his imprisonment. At least four factors had to change to make this deal possible and shift the Israeli-Hamas relations into a new direction. I will examine these factors in the following paragraphs.

Regarding the Israeli government’s willingness to accept a rather high price for only one soldier, we have to understand the effect of the summer protests in Israel. During a wave of mass demonstrations a large part of the Israeli society showed their fury against the rising prices of accommodation, food, childcare etc. and that the gap between rich and poor in one of the world’s most developed country is reaching a dangerous level. The Netanyahu government had to calm down the public rage by freeing Gilad. Israel’s military and social spirit depends on the idea of not letting even one soldier behind. With a system of general conscription, the leadership’s negligence would seriously damage the morale of the armed forces and also of the “home front” – meaning parents and partners of the soldiers. Although most Israelis think that the price Israel paid for Gilad’s freedom was too high, there are only few voices saying that the deal was a mistake, since this claim would go against the core values of the Israeli society.

The second reason why Israel gave in to Hamas’s demands follows the logic that since the Palestinian Authority is not willing to continue the peace process by negotiation and pursues a unilateral strategy of declaring a state in the UN, Israel empowered Hamas by making it the “savior” of the Palestinian prisoners convicted for acts of aggression in Israel. This move has meant to be a punishment for Abbas for not cooperating with Israel and it worked since Hamas’s popularity is on the rise even in the West Bank since the deal. Not everyone is happy about this result, mainly the highly influential security establishment (meaning high ranking officials of the Israel Defense Forces and Ehud Barak Minister of Defense), since they are interested in a strong PA in the West Bank because this is the key to the stability in the territories. This is why there is currently a battle on the Israeli political scene over the necessary gestures Israel should show towards Fatah in order to rebuild its shaken influence in the West Bank. Apparently, the army supports a greater extent of help for Abbas, while Netanyahu and Israeli FM Lieberman are more interested in the punishment and less concerned about Abbas stepping down in return – which would lead to chaos in the PA leadership.

On the other hand, the Israeli willingness would meant nothing without Hamas’s eagerness to strike a deal with Israel. Here it is important to note that the breakthrough happened a result of great effort of the Egyptian intelligence establishment which is interested in a moderate Hamas on its borders. We have to understand this new mutual interest between Hamas and Egypt. Hamas had a great dilemma during this summer when other even more radical militant groups from Gaza started rocket attacks against Israel’s southern cities. Hamas had the option to escalate the conflict (which it did by joining the attacks for a while) or to suppress the other groups and therefore in a way take Israel’s side. Hamas choose the later alternative; it got into a ceasefire agreement with Israel, for which it had to take the punishment from its former mentor Iran, which greatly reduced its support to its former ally. Hamas had to find another great patron and at the same time ease the Israeli security inspection rules in the Gaza Strip, which would pave the way to a better economy in the area with Hamas needing less support from outside to maintain its rule. In addition, Hamas was interested in portraying itself as the one who can get results from Israel in opposition to Fatah, which is currently loosing the diplomatic battle in the UN and all great powers try to push them back to direct negotiations with Israel.

Egypt was quickly willing to step in and spend a great amount of energy to reach a deal between Israel and Hamas. A few months ago, the new Egyptian military junta experienced the chaos that Islamist and mostly Bedouin criminal groups could stir up in the region, when it had to start an armed campaign in the Sinai to take back the control over the peninsula. All signs showed that the tunnels used for smuggling between Gaza and Egyptian territories are the main channel, where trained militants can get into Sinai from their bases in Hamas ruled Gaza. In addition, the Egyptian leadership watches closely the struggle between Iran and Turkey for the heart and resources of the Arab countries. Emerging from the “Arab Spring” Egypt must oppose this invasion of non-Arab forces. Thus it is now embracing Hamas after Iran maybe unintentionally gave an opportunity for Egypt to extend its sphere of influence and to stabilize the Sinai Peninsula. The important question is how far would Egypt go to counter the Iranian and Turkish incursion into Arab territories, since currently Syria and Iraq are turning into real battlegrounds and Saudi Arabia is too weak to fight off the two rising powers of the Middle East.

Currently we have a situation when we can clearly see an emerging race for dominance in the Middle East between three sides — Iran, Turkey, and the shaky “Arab coalition” led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia; with the Jewish state caught in the middle. Israel has its own dilemma when it has to deal with the moderate Fatah and the radical Hamas. The Gilad Shalit deal showed these lines of conflict between the actors of the region in a new light and therefore the story of one kidnapped soldier has turned into a milestone in the Middle Eastern power struggle.

Ágnes Szunomár: The roots of Chinese-Central European relations – The case of Hungary

The Great Wall of ChinaThe Chinese presence in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has intensified recently as China’s great power ambitions have grown and the CEE-region has been in dour need of this new partnership due to the economic crisis. However, this relationship is not as new-fangled as it seems. In some cases – for example the case of Hungary – it dates back several decades. Overall, Hungarian-Chinese relations are very successful. They have a six decade history, as old as the PRC itself.

Hungary formally recognized the People’s Republic of China on 4th October 1949. During the following decade the relationship began to develop with a huge number of high-level visits followed by the improvement of economic, political and cultural ties. Although the Hungarian-Chinese relationship was basically within the Soviet sphere of interest, Hungarian foreign policy did not follow, but rather differed a bit from the policy of Moscow. In international affairs Budapest cooperated closely with Beijing and has always supported the Chinese position on Tibet, the reunification of China (one china policy) and United Nations (Security Council) membership. By the end of the 50s, deep ideological differences began to appear between the two countries and, in the wake of the 60s, – during the Chinese “cultural revolution” – the relationship became increasingly colder. Much later, with the reorientation of the Chinese Communist Party in 1978 – its economic reforms and its opening-up policy – the two countries were brought closer together again. The Chinese leadership was genuinely interested in the experiences of the Hungarian economic reform process of 1968 and, in this spirit, a series of expert delegations visited Hungary. In the 80s, state and inter-party relations were normalized and high-level delegations were also reinitiated. After the democratic transition of 1989, the level of contacts between the two countries declined again, primarily as a result of the reorientation of Hungarian foreign policy, as more attention was given to Euro-Atlantic interests. For more than a decade, the degree of contact declined to a minimum.

Another fruitful period began at the beginning of the new millennium, after the visit of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Peter Medgyessy in 2003 to Beijing. The new wave of development was initiated independently by Hungary, because the government recognized that China is an unavoidable player in the global economy and international politics and because EU membership made Hungary more attractive to China as well. But for this purpose, steps had to be taken before others would take them. In this spirit, several confidence-building measures and gestures were undertaken and the results have become almost immediately apparent in the form of economic growth indicators. Over the past decade, the Hungarian government – regardless of political orientation – has committed itself to developing its relationship with China. Hungary has good results in the field of bilateral trade and investment with China. And this has led to greater expectations: infrastructure development and the financing of Hungarian public debt are just some of the areas where Chinese involvement is expected or has already been achieved.

When asking about the reasons for choosing Hungary instead of Poland or the Czech Republic, an interesting hypothesis can be found about the relation of the Chinese population in Hungary to the success of the Chinese-Hungarian relationship. The fact is that within Central-Eastern Europe the highest Chinese population can be found in Hungary. There are now around 10 000 – 15 000 (12 653 officially) native Chinese living in Hungary. And the majority of this population arrived in the early 90s. This is one of Hungary’s biggest advantages when building economic, political and cultural relations with China. Confidence and good impressions are of particular importance in dealing with China. But why Hungary? What made Hungary so popular to Chinese people 20 years ago? In 1988 a Hungarian-Chinese consular agreement – among other things – included the abolishment of visa requirements between the two countries. In 1990, 11 000 Chinese people arrived to Hungary, while in 1992 the number was 27 000. Overall, in the 90s Hungary had a Chinese minority of approximately 40 000, even though in the 80s, the number of Chinese people living in Hungary was only a few hundred. Of course, in addition to the lack of a visa requirement, there were other – economic, political and emotional – factors which pushed the Chinese towards Hungary.

Economic factors:

  • 1989 was a recession year in China and Chinese residents living abroad did not have to pay taxes.
  • There was social stability in Hungary compared to China.
  • Accessing Budapest by train was inexpensive compared to other destinations.
  • Chinese migrants found a gap in the Hungarian market, a business opportunity, as there was huge demand for cheap consumer goods.

Political factors:

  • After the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the democratic shift in Hungary, the possibility of free travel became especially important.

Emotional factors:

  • Thanks to the attention the Chinese government paid (during the 78/79 reform process) to Hungarian “reform socialism”, Hungary’s reputation among Chinese people was quite good and the impressions of the first Chinese migrants were also promising. They described Hungary as a treasure land, “Eastern Europe’s heavenly palace”, so more and more people chose this destination.
  • Finally, there were and there continue to be some Chinese who really believe that the Chinese and Hungarians are distant relatives.1 The evidence is that we have similar physical characteristics to Asians (dark hair, dark eyes, medium height), which differentiate us from other Eastern or Central European nations. And names are written and sometimes spoken in the same order (the family name followed by the first name), which is unique in Europe.2

After 1992, the Hungarian authorities re-introduced the visa requirement, so the number of Chinese immigrants has declined. Some of the original 40 000 Chinese people living in Hungary left the country, went home or moved to other countries in the following 5-10 years. But close to 30% have stayed, supplemented over time by a small number new arrivals – for the most part relatives of the Chinese already living in Hungary.

To maintain this advantage and to make Hungary a popular destination for Chinese businesses and investment in the 21st century, the Hungarian Government has undertaken several measures and gestures, including the creation of a new special envoy position within the Prime Minister’s Office for the development of Hungarian-Chinese relations and for the coordination of the China-related work of governmental institutions and the public administration. The first results of the new policy were the arrival of a branch of the Bank of China in Hungary (2003), the creation of the Bilingual Chinese / Hungarian Primary School in Budapest (2004) and the initiation of a direct flight connection between Budapest and Beijing (2004). All of these are unique in the region. There are many other results – a complete list would be too long to enumerate here – including collaboration between the Hungarian and Chinese railway companies, the establishment of a wholesale trade centre in Budapest focused on hosting quality Asian exporters and manufacturers, and the establishment of the China Investment Promotion Agency’s (CIPA’s) European Office in the Hungarian capital last year.

As shown above, there are more and more opportunities in relations between Hungary and China, but also a lot of things still to do to strengthen ties between them. As Barna Tálas, one of the more well-known Hungarian sinologists put it, with a well-coordinated, open and development-oriented foreign economic policy, Hungary has very good prospects to become “Europe’s Hong Kong”,3 namely the international trade and financial centre between the two regions, managing the exchange of goods and information and the transfer of technology and capital, as Hong Kong did earlier in East Asia.

Ágnes Szunomár is a China-expert and Research Fellow at the Insitute of World Economics, Budapest

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Another reason for the supposed kinship is Hungary’s name in Chinese, “Xiong ya li”. The pronunciation is similar to that of Hungary’s English name, “Hungary”. Though this Chinese expression has no further meaning, the first part “xiong” is similar to the Chinese word “Xiongnu”, which was the name of a nomadic tribe in Central Asia and thus a very close neighbour to China. Relations between early Chinese dynasties and the Xiongnu tribe were complex, with repeated periods of military conflict and intrigue alternating with exchanges of tribute, trade, and marriage treaties. There is no precise evidence however for this kinship.
  2. In fact, the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Hungarians are the only nationalities in the world who use this order.
  3. Tálas, Barna (2008): Adalékok Kína-stratégiánk megalapozásához. In: Kína: realitás és esély. Stratégiai kutatások : Tudomány – Kormányzás – Társadalom (ed.: Inotai A. – Juhász O.) MTA VKI – Miniszterelnöki Hivatal, 2008, pp. 197-218.

Rethinking the European Union’s Economic Relations with the Mediterranean

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Starting with the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia and spreading onto Egypt, Libya and most recently Syria, the sudden wave of upheavals in the Mediterranean have created a whole new reality across the Arab world. By showing the limits of their tolerance for the corrupt and autocratic regimes that have governed their countries for decades, the Arab peoples have made it clear that a new era of governance is due in their region. This historical moment is as crucial for the European Union as it is for the Arabs of the Mediterranean. In some aspects, it may be regarded as a wakeup call for the EU after long years of neglect for its southern neighborhood.

Rethinking the European Union’s Economic Relations with the Mediterranean: A Historical Opportunity*

The “short-sightedness, self-satisfaction and feeling of safety with the status quo” have been, in the words of Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, EU’s the dominant attitude towards the Mediterranean, where the “status quo” was in fact mistaken for “stability” for long years.[1] It is perhaps a result of this realization that a new and ambitious European Neighborhood Policy was recently launched by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Unable to ignore the urgent need for reconstruction in the region, EU provided €140 million of humanitarian assistance to those most in need[2], and an extra €1.24 billion (totalling nearly €7 billion) was made available for the ENP following the political developments in EU’s southern neighborhood.[3] Indeed, given the failure of the Barcelona process and the inefficiency of the later the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), the current political climate in southern Mediterranean gives the EU a historical opportunity to rethink its economic relations with the wider region, take advantage of a great potential to ensure sustainable security, prosperity and stability within the wider region, and to fix its past mistakes in the inefficient conduction of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

Brief history: Barcelona Process and Union for the Mediterranean

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) was initiated by the Barcelona Process in 1995 by 15 Foreign Affairs Ministers from EU member states and 14 Mediterranean counterparts. The main goal of the partnership was to gradually establish a free trade area between the EU and Mediterranean countries. Its political aims were equally sophisticated and ambitious as they sought to create “a common area of peace and stability underpinned by sustainable development, rule of law, democracy and human rights”.[4] The EMP specifically aimed at strengthening the economic relations among the Mediterranean non-EU member countries while providing them the necessary financial and technical support to promote a balanced socio-economic development besides equipping them with the tools to build capacity for further development. With the Eastern enlargement phase of the early 2000s and the introduction of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, the ambitious EMP entered a period of stagnation to gradually transform into an invisible component of the ENP.

Upon the suggestion of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the EMP was eventually re-launched in 2008 as the Union for the Medierranean (UfM). The revised UfM was this time launched by 43 EU member and Mediterranean states. The establishment of this extended partnership received substantial criticism for serving as a political tool for Sarkozy’s presidential election campaign in France, and was moreover regarded as a sign of increased competition between France and Spain over their influence in the Mediterranean region. The new goals set forth by the extended partnership seemed promising in the beginning – the establishment of the Mediterranean Business Development Initiative providing assistance for small and medium sized enterprises, a Mediterranean University for high quality research on the region, extended focus on the environment and transportation, and finally a permanent general secretariat in Barcelona initially raised hopes for a serious improvement in the cooperation between the northern and southern ends of the region. The inadequacy of the bilateral partnerships within the countries of the region and the outbreak of the global credit crisis, however, acted as catalysts for the fast demise of the ambitious goals of the UfM and made way to its perceived failure.

The reasons for the failure of the EMP and UfM could loosely be identified under two main headings – political and economic. The lack of an EU membership prospect and the absence of any clear, concrete and short-term gains for the partner countries served as the most obvious political shortcoming of the EMP. Moreover, the politicization of certain sectors within the bilateral trade agreements (namely agirculture due to the protectionist contraints posed by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy) further watered down the potential incentives for partner countries. Lastly, the shift of EU focus to its Eastern neighborhood during the enlargement process moreover marginalized the Mediterranean from the core of EU’s priorities. The most important economic reasons, on the other hand, have been a serious lack of business interest in southern Mediterranean, and consequently, very low levels of foreign direct investment in the wider region.

Reviving Euro-Mediterranean relations: Motivations

Although the Barcelona process has so far shown to be a failure, there are enough legitimate and pragmatic reasons why the original objectives of the EMP should be revived and given more emphasis by the EU. The strategic significance of the geographical location of the Mediterranean region, rising concerns on uncontrolled migration into the EU from its southern neighborhood and escalating fears of Islamic fundamentalism in the Arab countries could be named as the main (if not the only) reasons why the future of Europe lies in a secure, prosperous and stable Mediterranean region.

Perhaps the most visible reason why the original goals of the Barcelona declaration and UfM should be revived is the EU’s growing concern for uncontrolled immigration. The issue of immigration has been continuously ranking high in priority in the European agenda within the recent years. Catalyzed by the financial crisis, tighter border controls and stricter policies against immigration have become commonplace in member states. The efficiency of such measures, however, is yet to be proven, and therefore remain under scrutiny. This perceived threat of an “immigration wave from the South” has noticeably increased following the revolutionary upheavals in Europe’s southern neighborhood – hundreds of thousands have filled up refugee camps in North Africa, and over 20,000 are estimated to have reached Italian shores. What is certain is that Europe needs to rethink its “cure” for the problem of uncontrolled immigration. Addressing the symptoms of this problem so far has not produced any smooth answers to the issue – targeting the causes, however, have the potential to generate more sustainable solutions. Creating positive incentives and practical means to ensure that potential migrants stay home could therefore be an optimal recipe for controlling immigration. Taking into account the large volume of immigrants coming into the EU from the southern Mediterranean, working towards achieving the original goals of the Barcelona declaration would prove to be useful. Europe should address this problem by shifting its focus on creating jobs in the south of the Mediterranean, and seriously liberalizing its trade regimes to foster growth through trade with the region’s countries. [5]

The geo-strategic signifiance of the southern Mediterranean and Europe’s trade security together constitute another reason why the EU should rethink and reprioritize its Mediterranean policy. As the former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana has justly observed in a recent article with Angel Saz, the container traffic between East Asia and Europe is crucially dependent on the EU’s southern Neighborhood.[6] Solana and Saz have drawn attention to two important issues related to this container traffic. Firstly, although the container flow from East Asia uses the Mediterranean route (i.e. passing through the Suez Canal), only 28% of the transported goods enter Europe via southern European ports such as Barcelona, Genoa or Marseille. The remaining 72% of the goods are unloaded at northern European ports such as Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg, following a longer route through the English Channel. Even though this option involves extra financial and environmental costs, it is nevertheless preferred over unloading at southern European ports due to the superior efficiency of the northern European ports and their more advanced transport infrastructure.  Secondly, Solana and Saz emphasize that the Suez Canal must always stay as a “safe and reliable shipping route” in order to avoid the shifting of the route to the southern end of Africa, hence generating even higher costs for trade and the environment, and excluding the Mediterranean region altogether. In brief, the security of the opeations of the Suez Canal is of great strategic importance to Europe and therefore stable political regimes in and around the Mediterranean are of paramount importance for the secure and efficient operation of the economic activity between East Asia and Europe.

Lastly, there have recently been mentions of a possible Marshall Plan for the Arab World following the rapid regime changes and political reconstruction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The transformation across the region will surely have serious consequences for Europe, as regional peace, prosperity and stability is indeed vital for Europe’s stability in the long term. It is with this motivation that Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini has recently suggested that the revolutionary countries of the Arab world share the same needs with the post-war countries of Western Europe. Although a financial aid package by the EU for the democratizing MENA countries (similar to that of the post-war Marshall Plan) may indeed seem unrealistic given the current financial burden on the EU due to the alarming condition of southern European economies, additional measures could be taken to build on the existing financial and institutional structures.[7] Indeed, what is important in this stage is not how much of its financial resources the EU can allocate to support the democratic transition in the MENA, but how it can work to prioritize the Mediterranean within the existing financial and institutional resources. The ongoing financial crisis, therefore, should not any longer be an excuse for turning a blind eye on the developments in the southern Mediterranean.

Reviving the Euro-Mediterranean relations: Immediate remedies

Having reviewed why the EU should prioritize strenghthening its economic relations with the Mediterranean, it is also necessary to acknowledge the main limiting factors that are currently acting against a stronger Euro-Mediterranean economic dialogue, and outline the most immediate remedies for recovery. The first and most debated of these is undoubtedly the issue of the persisting protectionist measures in European trade, and most notably those in the agricultural sector. As discussed earlier, perhaps the most obvious technical obstacle that has played a role in the failure of the EMP has been the current state of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the resultant illiberal tendency in Euro-Mediterranean trade. Europe seriously needs to liberalize its trade regime if it is to induce any form of economic development and promote democracy in its southern neighborhood. At this critical time when the political character of the entire MENA region is going through a historical change, the EU cannot afford to continue ignoring the need to liberalize the barriers in its trade activity with the newly democratizing Mediterranean.

Secondly, the weakness of the institutional setup of the former EMP has been a very important though less visible limiting factor for the advancement of Euro-Mediterranean relations. The Barcelona process originally promoted the creation of a free trade zone in the wider Mediterranean region, which would provide the basis for enhanced cultural dialogue, promotion of stability and security in the South, and flow of financial and technical aid. When compared with other successful regional free trade agreements, the EMP stands out for not having an advanced institutional framework. The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada, for instance, could be taken as a good institutional example for the future of the Euro-Mediterranean trade relations. In comparison with the relatively looser Association Agreements between the EU and non-EU Mediterranean states, NAFTA provied a good institutional example with its side agreements and subsidiary organizations, most notably in the areas of labor rights and environmental protection. There is little doubt that the future of the UfM and Mediterranean trade could benefit substantially from such a move towards institutional development and capacity building.

Conclusion

The history of the world shows that the Mediterranean region has been the global center of trade and economic activity for many prominent civilizations like the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, the Spanish, and Ottomans. The current lack of a healthy and sustainable economic dialogue between the northern and southern ends of the Mediterranean Sea may continue only for a given period of time as the security and prosperity of the wider region is possible only with economic cooperation and extended social and political relations among the region’s countries. The Arab Spring has provided a historical moment for the realization of this regional cooperation, though to achieve this long term goal, EU needs to shoulder the lion’s share of responsibilities. Removing non-tariff barriers to further liberalize its trade regime, and enhancing the backbone of the EMP with a serious instiutional reform are of vital importance for the EU to fulfill this immediate duty. Bearing in mind that the security of the Mediterranean is the security of Europe, EU can no longer afford not to invest in its economic relations with the Mediterranean if it is to pursure a healthy and stable presence.

* Originally published on Turkish Policy Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 65-71


[1] Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, “EU must fundamentally redesign its Mediterranean policy”, EurActiv, 10 March 2011 (http://www.euractiv.com/en/print/global-europe/eu-fundamentally-redesign-mediterranean-policy-analysis-502981)

[2] Catherine Ashton, “Speech on North Africa and the Arab world in the European Parliament”, 6 July 2011, (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/123479.pdf)

[3] “Barroso announces extra €1.2 billion for Europe’s neighbours”, ENPI Info Centre, 25 May 2011, (http://www.enpi-info.eu/main.php?id=25296&id_type=1)

[4] “Barcelona Declaration, adopted at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference”, Summaries of EU Legislation, 27-28 November 1995, (http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2005/july/tradoc_124236.pdf)

[5] Peter Sutherland, “Europe’s Test in North Africa”, Project Syndicate, 27 April 2011 (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/sutherland1/English)

[6] Javier Solana and Angel Paz, “The Mediterranean Reborn”, Project Syndicate, 11 July 2011 (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/solana8/English)

[7] Franco Frattini, “A Marshall Plan for the Arab World”, Project Syndicate, 26 May 2011 (http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/frattini3/English)

Systematic Human Rights Abuses in North Korean Prison Camps

North Korea is the enigma of the modern world. Ruled by the mysterious Kim Jong-Il through a God-like personality cult, its inhabitants are conditioned from a young age to worship their leader. The government relies heavily on a large propaganda machine that censors and controls all media, casting Kim Jon-Il and his family into a mythical light. Few North Koreans will ever see much of the world: they are unable to leave their country; mobile phones are banned and you need a permit to travel even within North Korea.

Repercussions of non-adherence to governmental rules are harsh to say the least. There is substantial evidence that torture is used to extract “confessions” from offenders and a fair trial is probably not a concept with which North Koreans are familiar. In 2001 satellite photographs showed a series of vast prison camps in remote areas of the country, surrounded by agricultural land and industrial developments such as mining. Products such a soy beans, coal, sweets and cement with camp origins have all been in circulation in the country. Earlier this year new satellite imagery re-confirmed the existence of six camps and worryingly, in the current period of instability as Kim Jong-Il prepares to hand over control to his son, Kim Jong-Un, these camps have grown. Yet North Korea continues to deny their existence.

Yodok is one of the larger camps with an estimated population of 50,000 inmates. The camp is spread along two river valleys with worked land possibly totalling up to 90 square kilometres. There are two sections to the camp: the “Revolutionary Zone” which houses people with supposedly shorter sentences, and the “Total Control” zone in which people are bound for life. Any babies born in the Total Control Zone will remain there for the entirety of their existence on earth; they are born, live and will die in circumstances akin to slavery.  Families of those accused of crimes are often also imprisoned for life on the grounds of “guilt by association”. The original crime could have been something as simple as listening to a South Korean radio broadcast.

Life in the camps is hard. In the winter temperatures can drop to minus 20 degrees centigrade and the camps do not give people clothing to cope with working in these conditions. In a testimony to Amnesty International, former inmate Jeong Kyoungil described life in the camps. The working day ran from 4am until 8pm with two breaks for food, then “from 9pm to 11pm it’s time for ideology education. If we don’t memorise the ten codes of ethics we would not be allowed to sleep”. Work for Jeong at Yodok was sweeping overgrown weeds off fields. “Everyone would be assigned 350 pyong (1157metres squared) of field and only the people who finish off their task would be given food. If you finish half of your task, you would only be given half of your food.” Daily food rations are just 200g of “poorly prepared corn gruel” per meal.

Public executions in the camps are frequent as are deaths from malnutrition, preventable diseases and exposure. Inmates also describe people eating rats and picking out corn kernels from animal waste just to survive. But even for this desperate act you could be held in solitary confinement and tortured. According to a former detainee in the “Revolutionary Zone” at Yodok, approximately 40% of inmates died from malnutrition between 1999 and 2001. In his testimony Jeong also describes the reactions of inmates to death: “Seeing people die happened frequently – every day. Frankly, unlike in a normal society we would like it rather than feel sad because if you brought a dead body and bury it, you would be given a bowl of food”.

Amnesty International compiled a report based on the testimonies of 15 former detainees and prison guards from camps around North Korea. They believe the camps have been in existence since the 1950s. Only three people are known to have ever escaped from Total Control Zones and around thirty are known to have been released from the Revolutionary Zone at Yodok and escaped North Korea. Many still live in too much fear to publicly testify their experiences in the camps.

The Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, Sam Zafiri said: “These places are out of sight of the rest of the world, where almost the entire range of human rights protections that international law has tried to set up for the last 60 years are ignored”. Across the world, organisations and public protests have called for North Korea to recognise the camps’ existence and ensure that they are closed down.

In the words of Amnesty International: “Conditions in these camps are inhuman and Kim Jong-Il must close them immediately”.

Emily Judson

Emily Judson is a guest contributor of the European Strategist.

Keep Israel secure

Instability is on the rise in the Middle East with civil wars and extensive waves of protests in the Arab countries. Due to the failed peace process with the Palestinians and their aspiration to unilaterally declare their state, Israel is facing an era of limited security, which could become a trigger of increased violence in the region. In this article, I will argue that an Israel, which feels secure and strong, is the cornerstone of the region’s stability.

The summer is quickly passing and the Israeli leadership seems to be paralyzed by the prospect of the Palestinian bid to the United Nations General Assembly to declare their independent state. We can be sure that the majority of the member states will vote in favour of an independent Palestine within the ceasefire lines of Israel’s Independence War (commonly, but mistakenly known as 1967 borders). The question is not the quantity, but the quality of the votes in favour, let us remember that at the end of the Cold War, the Palestinians already declared their state with the backing of the Eastern Bloc and frankly, nothing has changed because of this. Today the problem is not with the coming into being of a Palestinian state, but the exact borders to which Israel would have to withdraw. The three main issues here are the Jordan Valley, the Jewish settlements and the sovereignty of the Palestinian state in security matters. In this article, I will only discuss the first issue as to demonstrate the necessity of a secure Jewish state.

The Jordan Valley is a key geographical item, which protects Israel from any armed threat from the East, and from any infiltration attempt from Jordan. Israel, especially the middle part of the country, lacks any real manoeuvring space for its armed forces, therefore the Israeli military doctrine is based on first stopping the enemy at the borders and then going into counteroffensive and moving the fight to the enemy territory. The Jordan Valley has only a few parts where an invading army could advance through it and even a limited Israeli armed presence could halt the attack until the reinforcements arrive, therefore Israel cannot be surprised. According to the Palestinians, the Israeli military would be expelled from the valley and generally, Israel would have indefensible borders, it would be incapable of protecting its largest cities on the coastline.

For understanding Israeli political and military thinking, we have to understand two key elements of the Israeli/Jewish mindset: the Holocaust and the experience of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After the Holocaust, and the exterminated 6 million Jews, the Israeli/Jewish way of thinking has incorporated the idea of “Never again”, which means that the Jews have to be capable of defending themselves against any threat, by having a country with strong conventional armed forces, a phenomenon lacking for almost 2000 years. The greatest shock after the Holocaust came in 1973, when Israel was on the brink of destruction because of the surprise invasion of Egypt and Syria. A nation, which has pledged “Never again”, has saw that it almost happened again.

By recognizing this way of thinking, it is important to realise that an insecure Israel will react strongly to any threat against their existence, because Israeli leaders will not give another chance to anyone like they did in 1973. We saw many examples to this rule when the Palestine Liberation Organization used Jordan as a base for their attacks against the Jewish state and the Israeli retaliation made the Jordanian king violently expel in 1970 the PLO (commonly known as the Black September). We saw many times in Lebanon that the meddling of terrorist organisations (formerly PLO, later Hezbollah) against Israel put the Lebanese civilians between a rock and a hard place. When Israel feels secure, it can resort to diplomatic efforts and react in a calm way. But when the Israeli politicians and military leaders perceive that their country is facing an immediate and serious threat (like constant rocket fire from Gaza or Lebanon), their actions will target the source of the threat which usually comes from neighbouring countries and in the end you get a proper war. If Israel would have indefensible borders it would provoke its enemies to use this window of opportunity to cause as much harm as they can, and as a result the Jewish state could be drawn into limited or a regional war, with devastating effect on every country in the neighbourhood.

By giving in to the Palestinian demands and recognising their state without going through the difficult negotiations with Israel, the international community is putting the Jewish state into an unsecure position, which can only lead to more instability in the region. While the Palestinian state is in everyone’s interest (even for Israel because of the demographic trends), it is important that this new state will not present additional threat for Israel. Having Hamas, a terrorist organisation in the Palestinian government is one of the main issues why it is too soon to acknowledge the independent Palestine, and Israel has to be left with secure borders and means to protect itself. The 104 members of the European Parliament who wrote to Catherine Ashton, EU’s foreign relations chief not to accept the unilateral move, which would destroy any chance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace, are a fine example of European decision makers already seeing the great harm which the Palestinian bid at the UN would cause in September.

Towards a Eurasian federation?

Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan finalise their customs union

As of 1 July, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are operating under a full customs union. The Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, as is the official name of the entity, started functioning on 1 January 2010 with the introduction of a single customs tariff with the aim of boosting trade and investment in the region by opening it up to greater competition. This was followed on 1 July 2010 by a common ‘Customs Code’ that removed customs checks on the majority of goods traded between the three states. In the present, third phase, the whole process was finalised by removing custom border checkpoints that still controlled the goods flowing into the union from third countries. Passport controls and immigration authorities will remain in place, but the countries are establishing a working group to simplify passport and visa procedures. An overview of all the customs integration phases can be seen on the table from RIA Novosti below.

An overview of the essential facts about the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia
Briefing on the new Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. © RIA Novosti, 2010

The Customs Union and Europeans

What can Europeans expect from these unification efforts of the Eurasian troika? For those who hope that one day international affairs will be better off when centred around multiple regional poles, which would be politically, socially and economically integrated on the basis of their shared identity, the Russia-lead regional efforts are clearly a much welcomed step. Indeed, it is one of the main tenets of the European Strategist to endorse such very efforts. And notwithstanding recent disputes between Belarus and Russia, it seems that the creation of the customs union will move the region a few steps closer to a hypothetical ‘Eurasian federation’ of the Commonwealth of Independent States, as is a long-time dream of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev and several other visionaries.

From this it proceeds that the Europeans should bear in mind at least three points when following new developments in the region. First, the integration efforts are not yet complete. The parties stress that the customs union will allow them to proceed with the next stage of the integration in creating a common economic space (by 1 January 2012) with the free movement of goods, services and labour. This would create a major economic zone of about €1,473 billion of nominal GDP,1 or roughly about 12 % of the EU-27’s GDP of €12,683 billion.2 The initiative further proposes to unify the countries’ taxes (quite many Russian commentators applaud this step, because they fear that the customs union without common tax rates might lead to companies leaving the country to their neighbours, mainly to Kazakhstan),3 and establish common and trade monetary policies. Indeed, swiftness with which the Russians and its partners move is even more commendable when one considers that any effort to harmonise diverse tax regimes in the EU’s member states would be a political impossibility: even the Commission’s initiative to create a so-called Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (“CCCTB”) is being met with a considerable opposition, although it is being prepared in various working groups for last 7 years.

Second, the move is also another clear signal that in the follow-up to the 2008 financial crisis, Moscow is changing its economic policies in the former Soviet space. New York Times observed already a year ago that whereas formerly, Russia relied on its hard currency reserves to gain from its neighbours political favours by providing them with loans and direct subsidies of fuel, the new policy aims at elevating the economic prospects of the entire region with Russia as a natural gravity well.4 In the short term, Russian farmers and steel workers might lose in the competition with Belarus and Kazakhstan, but over time, it is assumed that Russian banks will benefit from gaining access to Belarus’ backward, Soviet-style economy, which is currently on the way towards privatising its major services and industries. Moscow will thus reinforce its role as the region’s financial and business centre and even more increase the allure of its domestic market for other neighbouring countries. Indeed, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are already bidding for the membership.

Putin’s and Medvedev’s greater openness to their country’s economic integration has also a strong European dimension, as they would hope to extend the free trade partnership also to the EU and other EFTA countries. Here, however, they will not get any further without the co-operation of EU’s political leaders, which is lacking. The EU’s politicians are now on one hand much more concerned with the financial problems of the eurozone and, on the other, lack strategy and political will for leading a strong, common EU-Russian foreign policy.

A special status of Ukraine

Third, Ukraine continues to be a ‘blackjack’ of the geopolitical game between Russia, NATO and the EU, whose allegiance remains for the time being unclear. After the election of Viktor Yanukovych, who succeeded the Atlanticist Viktor Yushschenko, it was widely perceived as a Moscow’s triumph. Subsequent events, when he agreed to prolong the lease for Russia of the naval base in Sevastopol and declared that Ukraine will not bid for the NATO membership, seemed to have confirmed the fears of all uncritical Euro-Atlanticists. When the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant revealed a document describing the present Ukrainian government’s plan to develop close relations with NATO, if not seek the outright membership, it came as a shock both to the Atlanticists and Kremlin. Yanukovych is therefore a pragmatist who is above of all ‘pro-himself’.

So far, Yanukovych claimed that he seeks ‘association’ and free trade with the EU, but with the Russian strategic and cultural interests in Ukraine, Moscow will be putting increasing pressure on Kiev to join its customs union instead. In particular, Alexey Miller, CEO of Gazprom, implied that by the end of 2011, the price of natural gas for Ukraine might grow to an astronomical figure of $500 per thousand cubic meters. Is cutting off the subsidies a legitimate instrument of foreign policy? No doubt, although its ethicality is dubious at best. More seriously, one can doubt whether the ‘hard man’ attitude will serve Moscow’s interests in the long term, because such threats will rather repulse the Ukrainians from the Russian customs union then convince them of its benefits. Indeed, it is outright incompatible with the Russian latest effort to integrate its neighbourhood economically, as discussed above.

The EU cannot, however, engage in wishful fancies of Ukraine’s joining the EU under conditions that would be unacceptable to Kremlin, an event that would both endanger the EU-Russian strategic economic ties and cause instability in the region. Similarly, supporting further expansion of NATO is out of question beforehand: even if one leaves aside the fact that it would have much more detrimental effect on the EU-Russian relations that the Union membership bid (which is a fact independent of the perceived legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Alliance’s continuing expansion), NATO is a side arm of Washington foreign policy and therefore unacceptable for anyone who is serious about striving for a sovereign Europe. Besides, as the recent poll suggest, no more than a third of the Ukrainians support the NATO membership.5 If the foundation and standard on which international relations should be built is therefore political self-determination and multipolarity, rather than hegemony or any efforts at ‘civilising missions’, the EU and Russia will have to get down to one table and reach such agreement on Ukraine that will start from what the Ukrainians want themselves. At the same time, the deal will have to be acceptable to all the three sides. To imagine what it might look like is premature, but it is possible that the Russian ethnic minority in Ukraine would seek to build strong ties with the Russian, while the ethnic Ukrainians would look towards the EU. Preferably, this should be complemented by restarting the efforts at Euro-Russian strategic partnership and thus proceed along the way that would offer economic, social and strategic benefits to everyone in Europe without the destructive zero-sum logic of ‘either Kremlin or Brussels’.

Having said that, it is clear that the new Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia will play a key role in the region in the next few years. For the time being, the Europeans will do well to remember these three tenets in mind: it will continue on, signals a change in Russia’s neighbourhood policy, and Ukraine will be the main unknown in the geopolitical game. Will the EU and European political elite prepare a common and adequate foreign policy that would respect these stakes? That is to be doubted. But no matter, that is no reason for analysts not to keep trying for their voice to be heard and hope that after the euro zone problems get solved, European political representatives will gradually turn outwards to their partners and use the economic initiatives such as the Customs Union for their shared benefit.

Show 5 footnotes

  1. IMF World Economic Outlook Database, April 2011. Exchange rate used for the calculations: 1 EUR = 1.4464 USD (ECB data for April 2011).
  2. Eurostat forecast from July 2011 for 2011.
  3. E. g. Коммерсанть FM, ‘Таможенный Союз Стер Границы’, Коммерсанть, 7 January 2011 <http://kommersant.ru/doc/1670431?isSearch=True> (accessed 1 July 2011).
  4. Andrew E. Kramer, ‘Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan Form Customs Union’, The New York Times, 5 July 2010, section Business Day / Global Business <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/business/global/06customs.html> (accessed 1 July 2011).
  5. Kramer.

A window of opportunity

It should not surprise anyone that the USA is withdrawing from Afghanistan soon after Osama bin Laden has been killed. Combined with the pullout from Iraq and the shaky political situation in other Middle Eastern countries, the European Union is on its way to face the greatest security threat of its existence.

US President Barack Obama has announced recently that he is pulling out ten thousand troops from Afghanistan and another twenty-three thousand next year with the rest staying for a few more years at most. In other words, the Americans consider this battlefront as one that they can soon leave in the “capable” hands of the Afghan national security forces. It is a no brainer, that Afghanistan is going to be a nest of terrorists and ravaged by armed struggle for many years to come, but no NATO country can maintain its participation for much longer. There is not enough money and no will to keep this commitment.

Iraq is a much more serious case since it lies between Iran and Syria, the main players of the Iranian axis, and Hezbollah, which is “just” a junior member of the franchise. At least this was true until the recent crisis of the Assad regime. Anyhow, it is very unlikely that the fragmented Iraqi political elite could hold its stance against the Iranians and their allies without the presence of the coalition forces led by the USA. Power-vacuums cannot exist for long and Iran has many advantages in Iraq. One is the Shiite population, which amounts up to 65% of the total population, the second is the favorable geographical location and the third is the sheer size of Iraq. The third is important because, for example, Saudi Arabia could not throw a few thousand soldiers across the border as it did to save their allies in Bahrain, only a few months ago, since it would require a much larger force to “pacify” Iraq.

After a US pullout from Iraq there is only one thing that can seriously hurt any Iranian ambition for an “empire” stretching from the Eastern Mediterranean to the heart of Central Asia and that is the fall of the Assad regime. A few months ago, Syria was considered one of the most stable countries in the region, but now it seems that they are on the doorstep of a new civil war. Until now, there have been 1400 deaths and the Syrian army is not holding itself back. There are reports that Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is aiding President Assad, their closest ally in an otherwise hostile world. The greatest threat is that Assad and his accomplices can ignite everything around them. Hezbollah is already talking about opening a new front in Northern Israel and Turkey is very agitated about the possibility of an overspill effect of the conflict into its territory as Syrian troops are marching next to its borders.

We could say that the American withdrawal is a good thing, they can beef up their capabilities to fight wars elsewhere and it is true that today 100.000 US soldiers and a serious amount of military hardware are locked at Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Obama has made it clear that the United States has to focus inwards and cut down on public debt, put the country back on a sustainable track. I do not believe that we are facing another era of an isolationist America, but their commitment to a secure world order will be reduced in real terms, leaving gaps behind them in the security establishment of all regions.

As I wrote before, the European Union will soon face the consequences of the reduced American presence in the Middle East. The main question is whether we can fill in the void, or other actors with unfriendly or even hostile intents will take the initiative instead. It is possible to counter these negative forces by aiding domestic groups in Middle Eastern countries, using proxies and by these methods, the military aspect can be minimized (but not eliminated) in the short run. There are signs pointing in the direction of a revised European Neighborhood Policy, as many European politicians (for example, British PM David Cameron) have acknowledged the failure of our previous efforts to reshape the Middle East. These positive trends are overshadowed by the internal problems of the euro-zone, but if both the USA and the EU are turning inwards at the same time, other actors will make their move. By the time we would solve our domestic questions, our maneuvering space would be seriously reduced, especially in such a turbulent region as the Middle East.

At least three major features shape any political entity’s power in international relations: resources, fears and ambitions. Today we see that the European Union has immense resources, like a grand economy, population, territory etc. but it lacks the ambition to act as a major power. At least, no member state wants to sacrifice much of its own sovereignty for a greater international role of the EU. Today it seems that the only way the European integration could be pushed forward is by understanding the risks of not being a superpower. The Middle Eastern security situation after the US pullout could provide such an example and alert European decision makers. However, the more time the European Union wastes by inaction, the greater price we are going to pay in the long run.

Europe and Asia together against non-traditional security challenges

The results of the Tenth ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Ágnes Szunomár

The relationship between Europe and Asia – alThe logo of Asia-Europe Meetingthough more and more common interests and challenges connect them – for a long time has consisted of bilateral relations without a formal supporting structure or framework such as for transatlantic relations in the case of Europe and North America, or the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in the case of North and South American states and Asia. In 1996, recognizing the need for strengthening this relationship, France and Singapore initiated regular meetings between Asia and Europe. In this way, thus the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was born.

ASEM is an open forum for dialogue and discussion consisting of 46 countries – the twenty-seven members of the European Union (EU), the thirteen members of the ASEAN, the Plus Three regional grouping with India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Australia, Russia and New Zealand – and two international organizations, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat. Since it is a consultative forum, specific decisions are not taken during the meetings. But a so-called “presidential statement”, a final communication, is adopted detailing the results of the dialogue. In the ASEM framework, members engage in discussions as equal partners ignoring differences in economic development, country size and population. Dialogue is based on mutual benefits and mutual respect. The ASEM process is loosely organized. There are three dimensions or pillars of the cooperation, including dialogues on politics, economics, and also other areas such as social politics, education and culture. Heads of governments meet every two years (alternately in Europe and Asia) to set the ASEM agenda, while ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meetings are organised in the interim between Summits. The Foreign Ministers Meeting is responsible for pursuing the ASEM dialogue under the first and third pillars (political dialogue and co-operation in other areas). Apart from the Summit meetings, the ASEM process is carried forward through a series of ministerial and working-level meetings.

The 10th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Gödöllő, Hungary had an over-arching theme: “Working Together on Non-Traditional Security Challenges”. This title – due to the Chairs’ Statement – provided an opportunity to address relevant issues of common interest having substantial implications for the prosperity, security and stability of both Europe and Asia. Non-traditional or new types of security challenges include almost every security problem that is not a traditional military conflict. These challenges can be natural disasters, terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, illegal arms trafficking, organised crime, and also migration or food shortages. János Martonyi, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, highlighted that several of these challenges are present in Asia simultaneously. Indeed, Japan has recently been hit by both a nuclear and a natural disaster at the same time, which made the meeting and its theme more topical than ever.

All 48 members of ASEM represented themselves at the meeting. 36 of the 46 countries even had ministers attending the meetings, reflecting very high level participation. The Meeting was opened by Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. In his opening remarks, the Prime Minister emphasized that the effectiveness of cooperation between Asia and the European Union will be crucial in the future. Due to global financial and economic competition a new world has emerged where “lone fighters can no longer be successful”. He added that the years ahead will be characterized by searching for effective forms of cooperation and alliance. Europe should look for the most effective forms of economic and political cooperation with Asia, because that cooperation will certainly form a starting point for renewing the post-economic crisis world.

A wide range of non-traditional security challenges facing Europe and Asia can seriously impact the stability, security and prosperity of both regions, posing challenges at both the regional and global levels. On behalf of the Hungarian Presidency, János Martonyi stressed the importance of establishing nuclear energy safety where the best way to resolve such problems, both in the field of nuclear safety and environmental protection, is to seek common solutions. Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto also emphasized that combating terrorism, disaster management, nuclear safety, climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, are all challenges demanding cooperation. This is in the joint interest of the countries of both Asia and Europe.  The Chairs’ Statement highlights that environmental degradation, climate change, the loss of biological diversity, the over-exploitation of natural resources and other human pressures on the natural environment are underlying causes for many emerging security threats. Ministers have reaffirmed their commitment to pursue sustainable development in tandem with economic growth and social progress.

The issue of food shortages was highlighted by several countries during the plenary discussion. According to some countries of Southeast Asia, a holistic approach is needed in this field and the members of ASEM should improve their technological and scientific cooperation. Others emphasised the necessity of promoting cooperation, not only on recovery from natural disasters, but also on their forecasting and early warning.

On the second day of the Meeting, the participants dealt with the recovery from economic crisis and the fight against poverty. The Chairs’ Statement, unanimously adopted at the meeting, points out that the ASEM partners acknowledge that the world is recovering from the economic crisis, but in an uneven and unbalanced way across and within countries. They expressed deep concern that the recovery has not yet translated into sufficient employment and adequate growth rates for all economies. In some advanced economies unemployment is still high, and fiscal and financial vulnerabilities remain such as slow progress in fiscal consolidation, sovereign debt crises and slow progress on financial sector consolidation and reform. Some emerging economies face the risk of overheating and excessive short-term capital flows, and many confront the threat of food and fuel price volatility, with high levels last seen in 2008. ASEM therefore supports the goals set by the G20 to address and provide collective solutions for ongoing global economic challenges taking into account the interest of all nations. The Hungarian Foreign Minister added that the crisis is not only a challenge, but also an opportunity, as the markets expect jointly-developed solutions from the countries of the world. János Martonyi offered the European Union’s growth strategy for Asian countries as an example. This strategy covers several areas ranging from education to employment, as well as boosting innovation. He believes that the Europe 2020 Strategy has formulated objectives that can define an appropriate course of growth for the countries of Asia as well.

Overall, we can be assured that the results of the meeting won’t shake the world because no historic, compromising or tough decisions were made. But the consultations within the framework of ASEM do have a raison d’être in the future. Informal political meetings are becoming increasingly important in the world as both regional and global problems can be discussed more openly. In the future these meetings may become even more important, since Asia is rapidly becoming a dominant region in the world economy, global security and politics and has started to consciously influence the international order. As the Statement points out, Asia and Europe are becoming more and more unified, but there are still plenty of thing to do till then. Deeper and wider inter-regional relations would offer many opportunities for working together. The ASEM initiative involves partners that constitute over half of the global population, comprise more than 60% of world trade and account greater than half of global GDP. These facts alone make ASEM a significant forum that has successfully provided an important opportunity for interregional co-operation on an equal and reciprocal basis for over one and a half decades.

Ágnes Szunomár is a China-expert and Junior Research Fellow at the Insitute of World Economics, Budapest