Dozens of European and Asian leaders will gather in impoverished Laos today for a major summit set to be dominated by the Euro Zone debt crisis and growing territorial tensions in the region.
Top European officials including French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti are due to spearhead efforts to reassure Asia that the long-running Euro Zone crisis is finally coming under control.
The diplomatic offensive is seen as a sign of the growing importance that debt-laden Europe places on Asia’s fast-growing economies, and its desire to counter increased US engagement in the region.
“We believe Asia is more important every day in terms of economic development,” European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters in Bangkok ahead of the summit.
“Europe is one of the most important partners in Asia in terms of investment and trade,” he said. “We want to discuss the possibility of trade and investment but also the challenges of stability and security in the region.”
European Union president Herman Van Rompuy is also among those converging on Laos, a landlocked country of just six million people on the verge of joining the World Trade Organisation as it opens up its fast-growing economy.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who warned over the weekend that it would take more than five years to overcome the Euro Debt crisis — will not attend, sending her foreign minister instead.
The Asia-Europe Meeting, held every two years, provides an opportunity to boost links between two regions that together account for about half of the global GDP.
Europe “should be looking to Asia for greater economic activity”, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said in the Laos capital Vientiane ahead of the two days of talks.
“We are able to offer many areas of investment and trade for them. I think the opportunity is there for both sides,” he added.
Europe’s leaders may also lobby Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to deploy some of Beijing’s trove of about $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves — the largest in the world — to invest in EU bailout funds.