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Trading pragmatism for coherence
Belgium has a long-standing political, commercial and cultural relationship with Asian countries. Traces of mutually enriching contacts can be dated back to the 18th century when the Ostend Company docked in the Indian ports of Banquibazar and Cossimbazar.
Since then, the nature of Belgium's interests and ties with Asia have changed significantly. The emergence of Belgium as a nation state in the 19th century led to the establishment of privileged relations. Close relations developed with Japan and Thailand thanks to privileged links between the respective dynasties. Belgium's economic presence in China grew steadily in the 19th century and since the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1971. There was a particular interest in deepening relations with India, which has become a major economic power. Since the participation of some 3,500 Belgian volunteers in the Korean War (1950-1953), special political and economic ties have been established with South Korea.
In its Asia policy, Belgium is attentive to the values it holds dear, namely peace, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and freedom of navigation and trade.
Besides this, Belgian policy in Asia has always been marked by pragmatism, which means seizing both political and economic opportunities, and by a spirit of cooperation. It thus offers a very varied picture, as varied as the countries of Asia are, each with its own specificities.
In addition to the bilateral relations that Belgium maintains with Asian countries, relations have gradually developed through multilateral forums, initially through the construction of Europe. Indeed, Belgium has always expressed the wish to see the European Union increase its role in the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Faced with Asian giants such as China and India, each of which has a population of over one billion, Europeans need to join forces to be recognised as credible partners.
Belgium is also involved in Asia through other international organisations. It actively contributes to the programmes of the United Nations and its specialised agencies. As part of its participation in NATO, after taking part in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Belgium took part in the follow-up mission, called "Resolute Support", designed to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. The events in this part of Asia have also increased Belgium's interest in Pakistan.
Belgium maintains good relations with the countries of South East Asia and follows with great interest their regional integration process within the framework of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Both politically (in terms of regional security, human rights and good governance) and economically (by way of the creation of a regional economic community), ASEAN is a factor for stability and development in the region.
Belgium is also active in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and hosted the 8th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Brussels in 2010. The summit is considered to be the main Euro-Asian forum in the current international landscape. Together, Asia and Europe account for 58% of the world's population and over 60% of world trade. At the various ASEM summits, Belgium continues to actively promote closer European cooperation with the Asian continent.
Our links with Oceania are rooted in the wholehearted commitment of Australia and New Zealand during the First World War, for which we retain a great sense of gratitude. Since then, they have continued to grow in various areas.
Since the 1960s, several states in the South Pacific Ocean have gained independence. Links with these island states are most often maintained through the EU's cooperation programmes under the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) agreements. The majority of these states therefore have a bilateral embassy in Brussels.