Experts and governmental representatives commence a joint reflection to harmonise interests toward Asia and to achieve closer institutional relations with the continent.
By organising a debate workshop on Catalan-Asian relations, the CIDOB Foundation and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Generalitat of Catalonia) have opened a space for debate in which to assess Catalonia's influence abroad, while seeking new areas of relations and new channels of action, with the participation of experts and representatives of different departments of the Generalitat of Catalonia. Placing its know-how at the disposal of the public administration, the CIDOB Foundation has this year updated a study on relations between Catalonia and Asia that was published by the Asia Programme in 2001.
The meeting focused on the need to coordinate and give greater coherence to Catalan interests in Asia, by identifying common objectives, priorities and strategies to achieve closer relations with the continent, especially with China, India, South Korea and Japan. In accordance with Catalonia's aim to become Asia’s entrance gate in Southern Europe, important challenges in key areas were identified such as those of tourism (threatened in some areas owing to a lack of security) and communications (due to the lack of airline connections and because only 25% of the maritime goods trade that passes through the Mediterranean and enters Europe stops off at the southern ports).
It was pointed out that the economic transformation of countries such as India and China, and Catalonia itself within the framework of the EU, means that new strategies of rapprochement have to be developed; however, these should be strategies that are not based on reducing costs. India and China are not only possible markets for Catalan firms (though the domestic market opens up new possibilities), they are also potential partners for scientific and technological cooperation programmes, and the potential source of new investments for Catalonia. In contrast, one cannot rule out the permanence of significant Japanese investment, with 25,000 current places of work; a situation that requires extremely close attention by the relevant authorities.
Meanwhile, the experts proposed strengthening ‘cultural diplomacy’ in order to compensate for the lack of Catalonia’s own State instruments. In this respect, emphasis was placed on the role that could be played by civil society in order to link Catalonia with Asia, if it is given the support of public institutions. At the same time, the importance was stressed of the bridges that have been built by business people and by the Asian diaspora that has settled in Catalonia, and not only with their countries of origin, but also with other nodes in their transnational networks. With respect to the diaspora, experts mentioned the need to encourage second-generation immigrants to maintain their own language of origin, so that Catalonia possesses greater bi-cultural human resources, a factor that could play a key role in creating closer relations.
Other factors considered important in the strategy for creating closer ties with Asia were: the importance of maintaining institutional and personal links, avoiding discontinuity, strengthening cooperation with sub-state bodies and maintaining spaces for reflection such as this event itself in which, furthermore, there is room for the current or future leaders of Asia.