Spanish Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region

Spanish Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region

Theme: This is an abridged version of the conference given on 12th December last at the Elcano Royal Institute by the Director General of Foreign Policy for Asia and the Pacific Region, José Eugenio Salarich, in the run up to the public presentation of the Plan of Action.

Summary: The key position to be occupied in the near future by the Asia-Pacific region demands the development of an active Spanish strategy. This analysis deals with nine basic aspects of such a strategy: Plan of Action, political presence and visibility, bringing foreign policy closer to the citizens, new foreign security challenges, greater cooperation, aid in the development of the more underdeveloped areas, promotion of exports and foreign investment, cultural action and foreigner status issues.

Analysis: Any general foreign policy approach towards Asia and the Pacific area comes up against two difficulties from the very outset.

On the one hand, it is difficult to form an overall vision for an enormously diverse group of countries and regions that differ immensely in population, size, outlook, development and future prospects.

On the other hand, it is hard to implement foreign policy actions in a geographical area where Spain has to a large extent been absent, and where it is arriving late with respect to the political, economic and cultural awakening of the main countries in the area, as well as with respect to cooperation in their development.

In short, a great effort needs to be made in an area that has never figured as a priority in Spanish foreign policy strategy with the object of including it within its sphere of action on its own merits. Nevertheless, the conviction that Spain can no longer afford to overlook the increasing importance of the region is gradually giving rise to greater attention being paid to the countries in the Asia-Pacific region, to their spectacular rate of economic growth, their increasing closeness to the Western world with respect to the shared challenges facing the international community, and the sentiment that a series of opportunities are opening up before us that it would be a grave error not to make the most of.

In the global age in which we live, the political, economic, educational and cultural interests of Spain are also at stake in Asia. As the eighth most powerful economy in the world, Spain cannot fail to react to the fact that the international political and economic centre of gravity is shifting towards Asia.

The international system will have to adapt to Asia’s newfound power, as it is a continent that is simultaneously one of the main driving forces behind world economic growth, a vital element in the balance of world power and one of the fronts in the struggle against international terrorism. A new era is before us, one in which Asian countries will take part on equal terms with European and North American countries in the formulation of the rules governing international relations. The key position soon to be occupied by the Asia-Pacific region demands the development of an active Spanish strategy. Such a strategy involves putting into practice a series of proposals, which may be summarised as follows: (1) the drawing-up and launching of an Asia-Pacific Plan of Action; (2) ensuring our political presence in Asia and increasing our visibility in the area; (3) bringing our foreign policy closer to the citizens; (4) responding to the new challenges being faced by our foreign security; (5) contributing to greater mutual cooperation; (6) providing support to more underdeveloped areas; (7) promoting and backing exports and foreign investment; (8) cultural action; and (9) foreigner status issues.

The drawing-up and launching of an Asia-Pacific Plan of Action
Co-ordinated by an Ambassador on Special Mission, an appointment that fell to the current General Director of Casa Asia, and with the help of the Ministry’s General Directorate, this task has now been completed.

The Plan of Action is based on the Framework Plan (Plan Marco), whose duration coincided with the term of office of the previous government (2000-04) and whose aims coincided with the EU Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). In the eyes of many, the Framework Plan was the most important and least polemical initiative of a foreign policy plagued with unexpected events and characterised by a break in the basic consensus.

Nevertheless, the Framework Plan suffered from a lack of realism in its approach, and was found to be wanting economically in terms of its development, factors which eventually gave rise to a feeling of it having failed to meet its goals and, therefore, the impression of a certain frustration when the time came to assess its achievements.

The Plan of Action is the result of a long consultation period in which the most diverse sectors of civil society have played an important part, including the business world, trade unions, cultural and academic agents and practically all State Administration Departments, as well as Parliament and the Autonomous Communities. The idea was to carry out a well thought-out, open and collective exercise, bringing together all the appropriate and necessary efforts by the most diverse authorities. In fine, it is a State Plan, and one which we wish to implement with the collaboration of all concerned.

This strategy is to cover the term of office of this government. The result is a list of specific actions that are already being pushed forward from several government departments, and particularly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism. The end result is, in my opinion, a top quality text, which is both ambitious yet realistic. The Ambassador on Special Mission has done an outstanding job, and one for which the General Directorate would like to express its thanks and appreciation.

Ensuring our political presence in Asia and increasing our visibility in the area
From the outset, our goal is to strengthen the presence of Spain in Asia, to which end actions will be carried out in three directions:

(1) To continue developing, until completion, a bilateral network of political dialogue at different levels, depending on the country in question and its relative importance in our foreign policy programme. Over the last few months visits have been made to Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

(2) To draw up a schedule of top level trips and visits. One of the most notable and glaring shortcomings concerning our absence in Asia is how seldom our political authorities go on trips or visits to the area. For Asia to become a priority for Spain, this must also be reflected at the level of relations between leaders.

The Prime Minister went to China in July on his first official visit to an Asian country, while in November Spain received a state visit from the President of the People’s Republic of China. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has been to Asia four times over the last few months. Furthermore, other Ministers, Presidents of Autonomous Communities and members of parliament, etc, have also gone on trips to the area. Nevertheless, the frequency of the visits made by Spanish authorities still pales into insignificance when compared with those made by the other main European countries, so a considerable effort is still required.

(3) To strengthen our Embassies and Consulates, to create new legations and to promote central services. At present, Spain has thirteen embassies and four General Consulates in Asia. During the term of office of the present government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will open two more Embassies: one in Wellington and another in Kabul, and will further open two more General Consulates: one in Bombay and another in Canton. Moreover, it is hoped to gradually increase those embassies (half o them) which are staffed by only two members of the diplomatic service, so that they may have a third diplomat at their disposal, as well as to appoint more attachés and advisers from other State Departments. In addition, the Asia and Pacific General Directorate must be provided with more personnel and resources to meet the growing demand that we expect to create as a result of developing and strengthening our activities in the area. I am fully convinced that the reform of the Foreign Service implemented by this Government will put the situation on the right track. Indeed, the Plan of Action itself contains a wide-ranging series of proposals to deal with these matters.

Bringing our foreign policy closer to the citizens
Basically, forums and platforms are used to this end, the latter in close collaboration with Casa Asia, which is responsible for their organisation. To date, we have forums with China and Japan, and platforms with the Philippines, Korea and India. Both instruments are proving to be extremely effective and useful as they provide diverse sectors of society –such as academic and business institutions, universities and cultural and sports organisations, opinion institutes and, in general, all of those parties that may be interested in the country in question– with an opportunity of coming into closer contact with the reality of life in these places through the meetings that are periodically organised and which are well attended by both sides. These meetings are normally accompanied by political meetings that serve to complement their sphere of action.

Casa Asia deserves special mention with regard to this action, since in a very small amount of time it has managed to consolidate itself as a particularly valid instrument for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it comes to carrying out foreign policy initiatives in the Asian arena. Indeed, Casa Asia has proved to be of great value through its outstanding dynamism, visibility and closeness to the population, above all in the cultural and academic fields.

Responding to the new challenges being faced by our foreign security
In this section, it is necessary to underline the emphasis being placed by the Government and Ministry in its fight against terrorism, organised crime and illegal emigration. These are areas of action that go beyond the scope of the Asia and Pacific General Directorate, though we are responsible for promoting and encouraging relation-building and co-ordination policies with the main countries involved, especially those of South-East Asia with whom we have been creating a network of alliances and understandings.

With respect to this area, our action in Afghanistan deserves special mention. This operation represents an unprecedented cooperative effort by our diplomatic service in the development of providing aid (in co-ordination with, and supported by, our Armed Forces) for the reconstruction, security and political transition of the country through the offices of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in the town of Qual i New. This magnificent endeavour is being led by an Ambassador on Special Missionº.

This work is being carried out in close cooperation with our allies and with the International Community. It involves the maintenance of a military and civil presence in extremely difficult conditions (a fact reflected in the ill-fated accident last summer which saw 17 Spanish military personnel lose their lives). Needless to say, both Spain and its Government are extremely proud of all those involved in this action. We are well aware that the stabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan is a long-term project and one which will require a sustained effort, notwithstanding the increasingly more active part that the Afghans themselves need to play.

Contributing to greater mutual cooperation
One of the main horizontal objectives behind our management actions at the Asia and Pacific General Directorate is to support regional integration efforts by contributing our experience and intensifying our commitment to political dialogue and the protection of human rights. We also aim to promote our common strategy with our EU partners and those within the framework of the ASEM, as well as supporting the “Alliance of Civilizations” initiative in order to consolidate trust.

We owe a great debt to important Asian countries for the support that they have given to this initiative, which aims at bringing a novel focus to our relations with Islam, a question that the majority of Asian countries, many of which are Islamic, both understand and have made their own.

This is a peace initiative aimed at designing, developing and jointly implementing a global strategy to definitively defeat all those groups that insist on imposing their agenda of fear, subversion and permanent insecurity on us and which represent a threat to the Western world, the Arab world and Asia alike. Consequently, it is extremely important for the United Nations to assume the leadership and the responsibility for promoting this initiative. The success of the recent meeting in Majorca and the interest that the project has awoken not only in numerous countries but also among important personalities in the International Community augurs well for the future.

As is well known, the ASEM process is an initiative devoted to creating dialogue and harmony between Asia and Europe that first saw the light of day in Bangkok some eleven years ago. At present it involves 38 countries (25 European nations and 13 Asian states). If we count the Commission as part of the European side, we find that the number of European participants doubles that of the Asian side, though paradoxically, the Asian members quadruple the Europeans in terms of population.

For a country such as ours, active involvement in these multilateral contexts affords us an opportunity to remedy traditional absences, and to be present at discussions on and dealing with regional matters, to increase our presence in the area and to boost our visibility.

The efforts being made by the Ministry of Defence in supporting moves to solve internal territorial conflicts in the area deserve special mention, such as in Sri Lanka, and especially in Banda Aceh, in Sumatra, where Spain is actively participating in the checking of the laying down of arms by the guerrilla forces through the deployment of the second largest military contingent from Europe.

Finally, the protection of human rights is one of the basic pillars of our foreign policy. The struggle to abolish the death penalty (regretfully, in the Philippines there is a Spanish citizen awaiting execution, which has led to concerted efforts being made by the State institutions at their highest level to try to have, at the very least, the sentence commuted), aid for refugees and the ratification of the Rome Statute are all basic elements in our foreign policy that should be balanced in order not to destabilise efforts being made in other areas.

Providing support to more underdeveloped areas
The high growth rate in Asian countries and their development prospects naturally mean that Spanish cooperation efforts are tending to focus more on other continents where hunger, poverty and states of marginalisation are of a more structural nature and possess less possibilities of being remedied by internal means. Nonetheless, during its term of office, this government foresees adding new destinations as targets for our cooperation, such as Cambodia, Timor and Bangladesh, while current aid levels will be maintained to preferential countries in the area, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. As far as the latter is concerned, special mention must be made of the historic ties that bind us to this nation, which beyond the realm of simple rhetoric, represents our most important cooperation effort in Asia. Indeed, we wish to dedicate even greater efforts to deepening our political cooperation and to improving collaboration and contact between our civil societies.

The aid efforts to victims of natural disasters deserve separate treatment. Unfortunately, 2005 began with the devastating tsunami and has ended with another catastrophe, namely the Pakistan earthquake. The tsunami has been classified as the first “global” disaster in history, since it affected numerous countries –stretching its destructive tentacles from Malaysia to Somalia and causing hundreds of thousands of victims from all nationalities, of which many were Europeans– and given that its progress was broadcast in real time by the media.

As I had occasion to witness on the ground some days after the tragedy, despite the enormous number of dead and missing, in addition to the tremendous material destruction, the tidal wave did have some positive effects, in the sense that this heart-rending panorama gave rise to unprecedented international cooperation. Indeed, Spain, its people and government reacted with great generosity right from the start. In response to the catastrophe, which was in itself also unprecedented in its magnitude, citizens and governments from around the four corners of the earth mobilised to help the victims. Nevertheless, the momentum of solidarity needs to be sustained through time in order to bring about the economic, social and environmental recovery of the areas that were razed.

Promoting and backing exports and foreign investment
As pointed out in the Plan of Action, 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, a percentage that will have increased to a full two-thirds by the middle of the century. Given the sustained economic growth that has prevailed in the region for over two decades now, Asia has also become the most dynamic region on earth. World Bank figures show that Asia’s share of the world’s GNP grew from 19% in 1950 to 33% in 1998, and will range from 55% to 60% by 2025.

The Secretariat of State for Trade has drawn up three Comprehensive Market Plans for China, India and Japan, the mere naming of which reveals the Department’s priorities. I refer the reader to what is laid down in the Plan of Action by the Secretariat of State, the actions of which we will support by means of close cooperation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Cultural action
This is one of the main instruments of penetration in Asia, although, in the strictest sense and as with the previous item, the responsibility for this lies beyond the remit of the Asia and Pacific General Directorate. Nonetheless, this in no way suggests that we will be found wanting when it comes to backing up any initiative that may be forthcoming from the bodies and institutions responsible for such matters, which are basically the Cultural Affairs General Directorate, Casa Asia and, of course, the Ministry of Culture.

Cervantes Centres are to be opened in China, Japan and Australia. At the same time, however, the Embassies and General Consulates need to be provided with cultural action resources and scholarship policies promoted. On the other hand, as suggested in the Plan of Action, the attraction of Spanish culture in general, and its promising future in Asian and Pacific countries extends beyond mere interest in learning the language, which is the source of this great potential.

The Años de España (‘Years of Spain’) and cultural exhibitions around big events such as the World Expo in Aichi (Japan), the Shanghai Expo and the Peking Olympic Games, offer us outstanding opportunities to promote Spanish culture. To this end 2006 will see the celebration of the Spanish-Philippine Culture Year, while the Spanish Culture Year in China will take place in 2007, as agreed at the II Spain-China Forum. Spanish commemorations of the IV Centenary of Don Quixote, San Francisco Javier and of Váez de Torres and Fernández de Quirós will further afford us the opportunity of making ourselves known in the Asia-Pacific region, where it would be a good idea to present an updated image of our country but at the same time preserve the link with universal figures and events.

Foreigner status
The difficulties currently encountered by groups of scientists, business people and students interested in visiting Spain need to be addressed. Moreover, the visa policy in certain Asian countries, such as China and India, also needs to be revised. To this end, the General Directorate will promote, along with the Consular Service’s General Directorate, all the actions necessary to facilitate contact between people and those that best fit in with the objectives of our foreign policy.

Conclusions: These are just some of the lines of action that, from the beginning of this term of office, the Asia and Pacific General Directorate is setting in motion. It does not, however, represent the complete list, but merely the most relevant lines of action. Some of them are beyond the remit of the Asia and Pacific General Directorate; others are shared with other Foreign Affairs Directorates, while some fall under the competence of other Ministries. Nevertheless, all of the them are of interest to us, since they all point in the same direction, which is none other than to contribute to Asia receiving the political, economic and social attention it deserves, as demanded by our citizens and which, in fine, will turn this region into the new, central priority for our foreign policy.

Quite clearly this is not something that can be achieved overnight, nor can wishes become reality by merely defining them. Nonetheless, I believe it quite reasonable to think that the foundations have now been laid –some had already been laid quite a long time before–, that the political will is there and that the determination to put it into practice is something that is certainly not wanting in those of us who are responsible for positioning the Asia-Pacific region among our foreign policy priorities.

José Eugenio Salarich
General Director of Foreign Policy for the Asia and Pacific Region, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation