Asian-European Relations: Building Blocks for Global Governance

Massimo Andrea Leggeri, Italian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, speaking in Seoul on June 15, 2010. (Asia Society Korea Center)

SEOUL, June 15, 2010 - The relationship between Europe and Asia is nowhere near complete—a great deal of work remains to be done for ties to be explored and developed further, and for the full potential of that relationship to be realized.

Such was the message delivered by His Excellency Massimo Andrea Leggeri, Italian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, speaking here at an Asia Society Korea Center monthly luncheon lecture. Before a full house of diplomats, businesspeople, reporters, and Korean students of Italian, the Ambassador delivered a speech titled "Asian-European Relations: Building Blocks for Global Governance." He pointed out that he carried two metaphorical flags—speaking as an Italian and a European at the same time.

Since World War Two, he argued, the relationship between Europe and Asia has always been secondary to the relationships between those two continents and America. However, in the 21st century, with Asia now ascendant, European-Asian ties are nowhere near as strong, or as extensive, as they ought to be.

The veteran diplomat reminded his listeners that in the Middle Ages, both Europe and Asia demonstrated a willingness to learn about each other, whereas at present it seems there is less willingness to explore. Consequently, he called for politicians on both sides of the world to build up the relationship and exploit strategic complementary interests in trade and investment.

He advised Koreans not to let the past hold them back. "We are facing the challenge of a new geometry in the world, moving beyond the Europe-USA-Asia triangle." The Ambassador returned often to this theme of a "new geometry."

Turning to the G-20, the Ambassador suggested it should be a new framework for enlarging the global debate over how world affairs should be run. He pointed out that a new scheme of financing is needed, and that the balance of power in all international organizations is changing. For instance, the Cancun Declaration at the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 2003, when the global "South" jointly resisted pressure from the "North" to conform to the latter's rules, put the trading positions of both Europe and the United States at stake.

Asking the rhetorical question "How can we strengthen Euro-Asian ties?" Ambassador Leggeri suggested that the solution was not to compete, but to "complete the equilibrium of the new geometry." Although some mechanisms for dialogue are already in place, they still have a long way to go. For instance, he called ASEM (the bi-annual Asia Europe Meetings) "unfinished." What is needed, he stressed, is more inter-parliamentary contact, which he saw as especially valuable and important.

Ambassador Leggeri reflected that when he began his diplomatic career, in 1972, East-West relations were very different, being seen primarily through the lens of the Cold War. The relationship between Europe and the United States was taken for granted, while China was a mystery. Now, Asia is a priority for the new generation of young diplomats.

As a final observation, His Excellency stressed that cultural links are very important, and he suggested that Asia should re-discover its traditional, shared cultural aspects to increase its collective soft power in the world.