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India to attend Asia-Europe meeting in Hamburg


New Delhi : In a yet another recognition of its growing stature in global affairs, India has been invited to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) for the first time at a gathering of foreign ministers of the forum formed 11 years ago to promote a dialogue between the two continents.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to Hamburg May 28 for a two-day meeting that will be followed by an India-EU meeting in Berlin May 31. Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation European Union, is hosting the 8th meeting of the ASEM foreign ministers and the India-EU troika meeting.

Mukherjee will go to Hamburg after visiting Cyprus and Libya – his first overseas visit after he met with a serious road accident in April that forced him to cancel his scheduled trip to Saudi Arabia. New dates for the proposed visit to Riyadh are yet to be decided.

Mukherjee earlier will fly to Cyprus May 25 and spend the next two days in Libya, where he will discuss bilateral and economic issues with Libyan leaders.

India, along with Pakistan, Mongolia and the secretariat of the 10-nation ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) were admitted into ASEM in September last year.

That ASEM summit held in Helsinki also admitted Bulgaria and Romania.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, chairing the 6th ASEM summit in Helsinki, said the membership of India would strengthen the informal dialogue forum.

The decision to admit India was taken after years of debate that took note of New Delhi's rapidly growing economy. Another factor was the rise of China. It was felt that India's inclusion in ASEM would act as a counterweight to Beijing and make the dialogue forum more representative of Asia.

The ASEM, representing half the global GDP and 60 percent of world trade, was launched in Bangkok in 1996 to promote political, economic and cultural ties between the two continents. It has a larger strategic objective of promoting a more balanced multi-polar world.

ASEM currently comprises 27 EU member states, 10 ASEAN counties, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Mongolia and the ASEAN secretariat.