During his trip to the Middle East in mid-February, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak spoke about a phenomenon that he described as the “Second Middle East Boom.” In reference to the wave of construction that Korean firms had undertaken across the region during the 1970s and 80s, he noted that this new flourishing of economic ties presented Korea with unprecedented opportunities. In many regards, the economic relationship between East Asia and the Middle East will be one of the main engines of global economic growth in the twenty-first century.
Yet, despite the importance of deeper economic ties, there has been a distinct lack of research into the broader East Asia-Middle East relationship. For too long, Asian interest in the Middle East has been limited to oil and gas imports and construction opportunities, while the Middle East has viewed Asia largely as a source of manufactured goods. However, these two regions offer each other much more than just trade. More recently, the two regions have begun cooperating in multilateral organizations and on issues such as maritime security and peacekeeping.
It was in this context that the Asan Middle East and North Africa Center led a delegation of researchers to Qatar and Israel from July 10 to 17 as part of the 2012 Asan Middle East Dialogue.
· In Qatar, the delegation held a series of roundtables with leading Qatari think tanks including the Al Jazeera Center for Studies, the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute, and the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. In addition, it also held discussions with a diverse range of organizations such as the Georgetown School of Foreign Service-Qatar and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) office in Doha.
· In Israel, the delegation held a full-day conference with the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University and also a roundtable meeting with the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The central topics that the Asan Middle East Dialogue covered were:
1. Recent developments taking place in the Middle East and East Asia and their regional and global impact. In particular, security issues dominated the agenda, from the ongoing crisis in Syria to the continuing regional stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program.
2. Changing long-term trends in democracy, development, and security in the two regions. The dialogue explored how processes such as Egypt’s transition to democracy and increasing GCC activism, as well as Korea’s emergence as an international actor and the U.S. ‘pivot’ to Asia are likely to fundamentally reshape power relations in both regions.
3. Growing ties between East Asia and the Middle East, and how this crucial interregional relationship is evolving in the twenty-first century. In particular, there have been major improvements in the political and cultural elements in the interregional relationship, with lessons of best practice increasingly being shared.
Date: July 10-17, 2012
Location: Doha, Qatar / Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel