Asia and Oceania
Trading pragmatism for coherence
Political, commercial and cultural relations between Belgium and Asian countries go back a long time. As early as in the 18th century, there are traces of mutual enriching contacts, when the Ostend Company set foot in the Indian ports of Banquibazar or Cassimbazar.
In the meantime, the nature of Belgian interests and the relations with Asia have evolved dramatically. The emergence of Belgium as a nation state in the 19th century has opened the way for the development of particularly friendly relations. With countries such as Japan and Thailand, relations have become closer as a result of privileged relations between the respective royal families. In the People’s Republic of China, the Belgian economic presence has increased continuously in the 19th century and since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1971. The specific interest for deepening relations with India, which likewise has the ambition to become an economic superpower, grows every day. Since the participation of about 3,500 Belgian volunteers in the three-year war against North Korea, Belgium has developed special relations with South Korea, both at the political and economic level. Belgium has also recently conducted a very active policy in Vietnam, its only direct development cooperation partner in Asia.
The Belgian policy in Asia has always been based on a pragmatic approach, taking into account the background, the possibilities of the moment and the cooperation perspectives. It therefore shows a lot of variation, depending on the specificity of each country.
In addition to bilateral relations, Belgium’s relations with Asia have gradually developed through international institutions. First, through the European construction process. Indeed, Belgium wishes to let the European Union play a bigger role within the framework of the common foreign and security policy. It supports the development of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which endeavours to provide the EU with a profile of a more focused engagement with a stronger visibility. Regarding Asian giants such as China and India with more than one billion inhabitants each, the Europeans do need to join forces in order to present themselves as a credible partner.
Belgium is also active in Asia through other international institutions. It contributes actively to the programmes of the United Nations and of the Specialized Agencies. Belgian troops are currently deployed in the capital of Afghanistan (Kabul) within the framework of a NATO contribution to the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan). Events in this specific part of Asia have strengthened relations with Pakistan, as well.
Belgium hosted the 8th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which took place in Brussels on 4 and 5 October 2010. Asia and Europe jointly represent 58% of the world population and more than 60% of the world trade. The biennial informal ASEM Summit brings all the heads of state and of governement from Asia and Europe together with a view to discuss subjects of common interest. It is considered as the major euro-asian meeting on the current international scene and Belgium took it as an honour to host it. At the Summit Meeting in Brussels, emphasis was put on ‘greater well-being and more dignity for all citizens’. Also in Brussels and for the first time, Australia, New Zealand and Russia were in attendance.
The ties with Oceania originate from the very much valued military engagement of Australia and New Zealand in our regions during World War I. All the countries involved now closely cooperate in the preparations for the commemoration of the First World War Centenary.
In the sixties, a number of smaller states from the Pacific have become independent. Relations with these island states are generally maintained through the EU cooperation programmes within the framework of the African, Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) Agreements. As a consequence, most of them operate a bilateral embassy in Brussels.