By Madhuban Paudel (KATHMANDU, August 7) –
The Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) is a Forum of the Asian Continent with “a key principle to consolidate Asian strengths and fortify Asia’s competitiveness by maximizing the diversity and rich resources evident in Asia”. Its core values as announced by the founders are “positive thinking, informality, voluntarism, non-institutionalization, openness and respect for diversity”.
The idea of initiating this new regional forum, Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), which aims at fostering economic cooperation among the Asian countries, was mooted by Thailand in June 2002. The Foreign Ministers of 18 countries from Asia met in Thailand to launch this new initiative in order to “constitute the missing link in Asia by incorporating every Asian country and building an Asian Community without duplicating other organizations or creating a bloc against others”. One of the core values of ACD in the inception days was non-institutionalization and it had no Secretariat of its own. The Thai Foreign Office coordinated the forum by setting up a Special Cell as a makeshift arrangement.
The objectives behind the inception of ACD as they had announced in its creation are broadly described as follows:
- To promote the interdependence among Asian countries in all areas of cooperation by identifying Asia’s common strengths and opportunities which will help reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of Asian people whilst developing a knowledge-based society within Asia and enhancing community and people empowerment;
- To expand the trade and financial market within Asia and increase the bargaining power of the Asian countries in lieu of competition and, in turn, enhance Asia’s economic competitiveness in the global market;
- To serve as the missing link in Asian cooperation by building up Asia’s potentials and strengths through supplementing and complementing existing cooperative frameworks so as to become a viable partner to other regions; and
- To ultimately transform the Asian continent to an Asian community, capable of interacting with the rest of the world on a more equal footing and contributing more positively towards mutual peace and prosperity.
These objectives are lofty and towering and non-controversial in character. However, Nepal, in spite of its keen interest in all regional cooperation initiatives, decided to opt out of this Forum from the beginning in the entire process ! As it was whispered, during the initial days of ACD’s inception, in the corridors of the Foreign Ministry, Nepal was reluctant to join this new Forum in the beginning “not to let any other regional forum/s to minimize the importance of SAARC”, headquartered being in Kathmandu !
It is also said that Nepal had tried to join the Forum after 2007-8, but by then the founders, after the entry of Singapore in 2008, had imposed a moratorium. They did not consider Nepal although it had initiated the process one year earlier.
High Level and Other Meetings of ACD
The First ACD Summit was hosted by Kuwait in October 2012 after a decade of its creation and, as scheduled, Thailand will host the Second Summit this year followed by the 3rd Summit in Iran in 2018.
By the end of 2014, thirteen ACD Ministerial Meetings have been held in different member countries. The Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of ACD Member countries held annually constitutes the ACD’s “higher body.” In the period between Ministerial meetings, the Foreign Ministers also meet in working sessions on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session and discuss implementation of the agreed projects and programs, exchange their views on key international and regional issues.
Senior officials meetings (SOM) are held in preparation for the annual meetings of the ambassadors of the ACD members in Bangkok.
At the community level also, Thailand had hosted the First ACD Think Tanks Symposium in December 2004 to put together an ACD Think Tank Network composed of academic institutions, development networks and research groups nominated by ACD countries to serve as the academic arm of ACD.
In such meetings, the Member countries mainly discuss different areas of mutual interests including 19 areas of cooperation the member countries moved in the beginning and the 20th area, that of Cultural cooperation, adopted during the Ministerial Meeting held in Tehran in November, 2010. The area of cooperation and the moving member countries include as follows:
Energy (Bahrain, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Qatar, China and the Philippines);
Poverty alleviation (Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam);
Agriculture (China, Pakistan and Kazakhstan);
Transport linkages, (India, Kazakhstan and Myanmar);
E-Commerce , (Malaysia);
Infrastructure fund, (Malaysia);
Asian Institute of Standards, (Pakistan );
SMEs cooperation (Singapore, Sri Lanka);
IT development, (Republic of Korea);
Science and Technology (The Philippines );
Tourism, (Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan);
Financial Cooperation (Thailand );
Human resource development (Vietnam, Thailand);
Environmental education (Japan and Qatar);
Strengthening legal Infrastructure (Japan );
Road Safety (Oman);
Natural Disaster (Russia); and
Cultural Cooperation (Iran, India and Bahrain).
ACD Summit, Expansion of Membership and Its Future
Kuwait had offered to host the first ever ACD Summit in Kuwait city. The moratorium for new membership announced earlier in 2008 ended during the Ministerial Meeting held in Kuwait at the initiative of Kuwait as the host of the first ACD Summit in 2012.
Kuwait as a Chair of ACD was keen to expand the membership and, for this purpose, had deputed a Special Envoy to different South Asian countries, both Members and non-Members. As an Envoy of the Foreign Minister of Kuwait, the ACD Summit Coordinator Ambassador Mohammad Al Roumi from the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had visited Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan in May, 2012 to brief, inter alia, about the proposed ACD Summit.
In Nepal, the Envoy had also carried a letter from the Prime Minister of the Government of Kuwait. There was no homework in Nepal on joining the ACD possibly because the matter was not seriously considered by the authorities. It might not have been reported by them to the higher political level also, as a result of which, the Envoy returned empty-handed ! He could not meet the Foreign Minister even. However, Kuwait still hoped that Nepal would respond positively by applying for the Membership till the time of the Summit. There was no response from Nepal till the last moment.
During the first ACD Summit held in October 2012, two Asian countries, Afghanistan (2012) and Turkey (2013) who had by then applied for Membership were inducted, making the total number of ACD Member countries at 33. So far, Nepal and Maldives are the two SAARC member countries who have not joined this regional forum even after 13 years of its inception.
As a new development of the Summit, Kuwait called upon the member countries to mobilize US$2 billion to benefit under-developed Asian countries (mainly non-Arab countries) in carrying out mid-sized projects. Kuwait then had itself made a significant contribution of its own to this effort by pledging US$300 million. Kuwait is now hosting the ACD Secretariat for the next 5 years on its own expenses and a senior Thai Diplomat is heading the Secretariat. This was indeed an encouraging outcome of the Summit.
Although the concept of ACD was mooted in South East Asia at the initiative of Thailand, the present scenario shows that the GCC countries and Iran from West Asia are very active participants and in some respects, the key players.
The Asian countries have now realized that the ACD can be a useful Asian Forum since it is forward-looking and all its moves and its future looks promising. It has proved itself as “a relevant and constructive pan-Asian body with a forward-looking agenda, concrete plans and projects and some noteworthy accomplishments” as well.
ACD is thus becoming a relevant, constructive pan-Asian body with a forward-looking agenda, and also another Asian Forum which is coming up positively only to “nurture the development of an Asian Community and pool resources for common action”.
Countries like Nepal who wish to benefit from its accomplishments should think about joining the Forum without any delay during the forthcoming Summit scheduled in Thailand later this year.
Madhuban Paudel is Former Nepalese Ambassador to Kuwait.