Mrs Beata Stoczyńska works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is the coordinator of ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) – the intercontinental dialogue in three fields: political, economic and socio-cultural, under the framework of ASEF.
1. Poland established cooperation with The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) in 2002 - Which of the fields of the dialogue is the most important for Europe: cultural, social, or economic? Has anything changed after Poland accessed to the EU?
Since 1996 countries which belong to the EU as well as countries from East and South-East Asia have been working together under the framework of ASEM (Asia- Europe Meeting) process.
ASEM Summit-level meetings have been held every two years. During the first Summit meeting, it was decided that a new foundation would be established for cultural, scientific, social and educational cooperation under the framework of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) process. As a result, the year after in February1997 in Singapore the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) began its activity.
Poland was not a member of the EU then, so was not eligible to take part in projects carried out by the ASEF. During our preparation for the access to the EU in 2002, we have made contact with ASEF. The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs invited its Executive Director amb. Colome to pay a visit to our country.
The aim of the visit was to present to our guest the actual cooperation with the Asian countries as well as our cultural and scientific output. During his visit to Poland ambassador Colome visited Warsaw and Cracov. As a result, contacts with ASEF were more and more frequent and Polish politics travelling to Singapore started visiting Foundation and learnt about its activities and framework.
Since its access to the EU Poland became a member of the Foundation with full rights, opportunities and obligations. Throughout its membership in ASEM and ASEF Poland obtained new political tools.
As far as the fields of the dialogue are concerned, I should stress that all Polish activities in Asian countries are of the same importance, but of course, the economic collaboration is on top priority.
2. What can Poland offer to Asian countries? Do we benefit or contribute more to this cooperation? Who with our cooperation is the most dynamic?
The tradition of Polish collaboration with Asian countries is very rich. We have established and continue political relationship with many of them since the early XX century.
The access of Poland to the EU increased much more the attractiveness of our country among our partners from Asia and Pacific region. We are regarded as a well-developed country offering huge opportunities, as it can be seen through the recent multibillion investments of South Korean and Japanese firms.
Nowadays we try to expand our traditionally good political relationship and also involve here the economic one. By the way, almost 80% of Polish-Asian international trade is generated by the exchange with Eastern Asia.
As far as the dynamism of our collaboration is concerned, I think it can be easily noticed in the growth of the trade turnover. In the first place there are China, Japan, and Republic of Korea. In Southern Asia the biggest trade which we have is with India, and in South-East Asia with Malaysia and Singapore.
3. In comparison to other European countries, what is our knowledge on Asian culture? What is our attitude towards different traditions – are young people, businessmen and politicians tolerant or do they present europocentrism?
In my opinion, the knowledge is getting bigger and bigger. Blooming globalization and as a consequence distance shrinking between Europe and Asia, as well as possibilities of spending holidays in Asian countries undoubtedly make the Asian world closer and closer.
The fashion on feng shui
or known much earlier origami
, great popularity of action films made in Far East or more and more often watched Indian productions also show fascination of people in Poland by the Asian continent culture and customs.
Let’s focus for example on what our children are watching – Japanese cartoons. Not mentioning the activity of the Japanese Center of Art and Technique in Cracov founded by Andrzej Wajda which enables us better understanding of that Asian country.
It is difficult to say how we are seen in comparison to other European countries. As far as I know nobody has carried out a research on that issue, but I am convinced that citizens coming from Eastern Europe had more opportunities for visiting such exotic for us places and trying exclusive Asian cuisine.
Citizens coming from different Asian countries arrived in Western Europe much earlier than in Poland and together with them many oriental restaurants opened there - so people living there could know them better through such a direct contact. Nevertheless, in my opinion Polish people are very open for new cultures.
4. If someone proposed ‘ Days of Asian Cultures – a dialogue of civilization’ in Polish secondary schools, would you see it as a necessity in promoting such an intercultural exchange and what would be the chances to succeed in doing such initiative?
I’m convinced that such initiative would be necessary and profitable, as lots of us has an unreal image of Asia which we often convey to our children.
Poland has made a huge progress in the recent years and so Asian countries have. Let’s take for example the latest news from Japan concerning more and more perfect humanoid robot, or Japanese and Korean cars in our streets.
It is also a fact that there is electronic equipment made by Asian firms in almost every Polish house. This makes an incredibly positive picture of Asia as a continent of very high-developed economy.
Nevertheless, we have to convey young people that Asia is not only Japan, China or South Korea but also countries in South Asia and South-East Asia with their rich culture and traditions, that are so different from ours.
This part of the continent is really worth to learn about -but not necessarily only from the perspective of beautiful beaches in Thailand
5. Have you ever been to Asia, if so did the encounter of such unusual culture made an impression on you? What is your role as coordinator of Asia-Europe project at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
I have been dealing with the region of Asia and Pacific for several years and in the meantime I have visited India, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Each of the journeys gave me the possibility of new observations and new experiences.
The most important for me was my first trip when I found out that the world is not only Europe, Christianity and our civilization. Then I found out the variety and richness of the world and the significant role of other cultures.
My role as a coordinator ASEM is about supervising everything that happens in the field of ASEM/ASEF. In the ASEM framework membering countries propose initiatives, organize seminars and conferences, send information about them to national contact points at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of each participating country. My task is to convey them to proper addresses and encouraging Polish representatives to take part in different enterprises.
6. How real is the idea of creating Asian Union similar to the EU? Wouldn’t it make the intercontinental diplomatic relations easier?
ASEAN has been working on closer regional integration and cooperation within a Union that is supposed to be created in 2015. Diplomats of the membering countries have also been working on the ASEAN Chart.
In January 2007 took place 2nd East Asia Summit (EAS), with the leading role of ASEAN.The EAS is a significant regional grouping that plays an important role in advancing on economic and strategic issues.
The first EAS, which was held in December 2005, issued a declaration concerning building East Asian Community in the future. It’s hard to say whether the Community will be in a European Union style or not. Let’s take into consideration differences in economic development, culture and traditions of individual membering countries of the Asian region.
What I think is that nowadays the relations between both continents are very good so the creation of Asian Union wouldn’t change anything in that matter.I would like to remind here that in 2007 a 30th anniversary of dialogue relations between EU and ASEAN will be held.
There are regular meetings on the highest levels of ministers, experts, Heads of State and Government within the framework of the dialogue. Last year on the VI ASEM Summit in Helsinki we celebrated the 10th anniversary of this platform of collaboration. I am convinced that it is a perfect place for exchanging opinions, experience, and a place for discussion on different problems.
7. What do you think about our Polish project ‘Young Diplomats’ in ‘Asia-Europe Classroom Network’
I must admit that also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Academy of Diplomacy at the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs with co-sponsoring of Holland, Malaysia and ASEF organized a seminar for young diplomats in September 2006. This seminar was the first of the series of seminars that will be held by the ASEM Diplomatic Academies Network. In my opinion, it was a success and it achieved its main aim, which was getting each other better and establishing stronger relations. Participants of the seminar created a discussion group where they exchange opinions and keep in touch with one other.
I think that also ‘YOUNG DIPLOMATS’ within the ‘Asia-Europe Classroom’ framework will contribute to fighting stereotypes, building bridges of understanding and will be a great success.
8. What would you like to wish the Asia-Europe Foundation in 2007?
As this year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Foundation, I’d like to wish it many other such profitable decades, coping with problems and lots of success in building bridges between Europe and Asia.
We would also like to join in the wishes. Thank you for the interview.
Interview: Halina Bednarz, translation: Joanna Mika-Hadelka
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Poland)