Human connection helps Asia and Europe unite

As Asia and Europe are geographically far apart, only the "human dimension" in the partnership that continues to build trust through personal interaction has a much more lasting effect in the relationship and this "human" element is important to give Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) meaning.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, yesterday said this in a titah on the second day of the 9th ASEM in Vientiane, Laos, as the Lead Speaker for Asian region for the agenda on 'Social and Cultural Cooperation' during Plenary Session III.

His Majesty highlighted Brunei Darussalam's strategy towards meeting this goal. Education remains a practical approach to achieving this dialogue and understanding amongst the youths.

"Increased student exchanges through collaboration between universities are a good way of meeting this objective. The percentage of Asian students studying in Europe is far higher than the total number of European students learning in Asia.

It would be invaluable if these figures can be balanced by getting more European students to choose Asia as their place of study. Not only will students be able to exchange their experiences and know-how as they prepare for employment, they will come to respect and appreciate the cultural diversity between them as they interact," said His Majesty.

In this regard, His Majesty called for more joint degrees and short-term programmes to be developed between the universities of Asia and Europe.

Another practical approach which could be explored is to encourage student associations to network amongst themselves to discuss important regional and global challenges such as on climate change and the environment and disaster management.

Along the same line, His Majesty said he would like to see exchanges enhanced between ASEM's think-tanks to promote towards strengthened cooperation in ASEM.

His Majesty was pleased to announce that Brunei Darussalam will be welcoming ASEM students to the country in May next year to participate in a workshop entitled 'Challenges to Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Ecosystems'.

The aim is to draw different ideas and perspectives from the students in dealing with environmental problems that also impact on their diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Earlier, His Majesty said since the inception of ASEM in 1996, the dialogue and cooperation have provided a very solid foundation to set clear directions for the future.

Deliberations have brought the two regions closer together in defining joint responses to tackle regional and global challenges.

"The challenges are cross-cutting in nature and do not have a 'one size fits all' solution and that ASEM may have to come up with short-term answers in addressing them. What counts is ASEM's ability to make a difference to the people today and for the next generation," His Majesty said.

His Majesty was pleased to acknowledge the efforts in bringing people of the two regions together through various platforms within ASEM, such as Asia-Europe Business Forum (AEBF), Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP), Asia-Europe People's Forum (AEPF) and ASEM Eco-Innovation Center (ASEIC).

On behalf of the Asian region, His Majesty applauded the tireless efforts undertaken by the Asia-Europe Foundation as well as initiatives taken up by respective member states be it from Asia or from Europe to support social and cultural exchanges.

It is in these platforms which have demonstrated the human connection that binds Asians and Europeans in unity, His Majesty said.

"With unfortunate events unfolding in parts of the world today, efforts should also be focused on advocating a culture of peace at all levels of society, especially to our youth, to promote dialogue and common understanding of the different cultures within ASEM, as well as to build bridges in support of cross-cultural understanding globally, for instance, through the work of the United Nations Alliance of Civilisation and Malaysia's Initiatives, and the Global Movement of Moderates.

"People-to-people interaction is therefore at the heart of what ASEM is here for," added His Majesty.

Finally, His Majesty assured that the proposed Vientiane Declaration on Strengthening Partnership for Peace and Development will certainly reinforce the friendship and solidarity between two communities bringing the two regions closer together.

In the morning, His Majesty together with other ASEM leaders attended the Plenary Session II that focused on 'Global Challenges'.

During this session, His Majesty also delivered a titah and welcomed ASEM's new partners - Bangladesh, Norway and Switzerland.

Since the last ASEM meeting in Brussels two years ago, the number of global challenges facing the two regions has grown more complex and challenging.

ASEM, His Majesty added, continues to play a unique role in bringing the two regions together to address many global challenges such as terrorism, natural disaster management, food security and climate change.

His Majesty emphasised that ASEM has the responsibility to provide the confidence and leadership in addressing this issue and very much looked forward to the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Doha next month.

His Majesty also highlighted Brunei Darussalam's initiatives in reducing energy intensity up to 45 per cent at 2005 level by the year 2035.

Brunei is working closely with friends from Malaysia and Indonesia to conserve a tropical rainforest area of up to 220,000 square kilometres in the Borneo Island. To complement these efforts, Brunei, added His Majesty, will soon become a member of the Coral Triangle Initiative.

Another challenge closely related to climate change is food security. For Brunei, said His Majesty, is focused on building up production capacity and infrastructure. It has invested in an Agro-Technology Park which aims to become a regional 'hi-tech' centre for food research, logistics and processing.

A key regional project which Brunei is working on is the Asean Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve.

In this regard, His Majesty believed that ASEM is on the right track in terms of creating all the opportunities for working together and learn from one another.

Accompanying His Majesty during both sessions were Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Abdul Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, Minister of Finance II at the Prime Minister's Office and Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II. - Borneo Bulletin (7 November 2012)