Trade, security and sustainable development are on the agenda of a commemorative summit between leaders from the European Union and ASEAN.
Geopolitical divisions could overshadow a commemorative summit marking 45 years of diplomatic relations between Europe and Southeast Asia, when leaders from the two regions gather in Brussels on Wednesday (Dec 14).
Trade, security and sustainable development are on the agenda at the joint summit between leaders from the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
But geopolitics could come into play at the talks.
GEOPOLITICAL TENSIONS HANG OVER JOINT SUMMIT
Brussels will likely push the connectivity agenda forward and try to woo ASEAN with its Global Gateway strategy, a 300 billion euros (US$320 billion) pot of infrastructure investment funds to spur connectivity projects in developing economies.
The plan is widely viewed as a bid to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with Europe seeking to be the partner of choice.
Brussels also hopes all ASEAN members will join its fierce condemnation of Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, but that could be a politically delicate task, said observers. Southeast Asia’s responses to the ongoing war in Ukraine have varied considerably so far.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “The best way to approach differences on Russia is to talk and to deal in facts and international law.
“And if we allow a powerful country like Russia, (a) military superpower, to invade their neighbours, to try to change international borders by military force, then that has a consequence, because it creates a precedent for other parts of the world as well.”
He added: “I think the EU will make a very strong case and there are many countries across ASEAN that understand that only too well.”
Ties between the EU and ASEAN have endured despite the differences, and it is now time for the two blocs to set the tone for the decades to come, said observers.
LOOKING FOR COMMON GROUND
Dr Hu Weinian, an EU-ASEAN researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies, believes more business with ASEAN could be a boon for Europe.
“After the lessons learned from the COVID pandemic, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, diversification (and) having resilient supply chains is on top of the EU’s trade agenda,” she said.
“ASEAN will play a very important role in that.”
The EU and ASEAN are each other’s third largest trading partners after China and the United States, recording more than US$300 billion worth of trade goods and services between them last year.
The EU was the second largest provider of foreign direct investment in ASEAN last year, while ASEAN’s investment in Europe has been on the rise, growing to around US$140 billion in 2019.
However, the EU currently only has free trade agreements with two ASEAN members: Singapore and Vietnam.
Brussels is trying to broaden its list of partners, but future deals could be complicated by new EU legislation restricting the import of goods linked to deforestation or forced labour.
Mr Daniel Caspari, chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Countries of Southeast Asia and ASEAN, said: “There’s a need to stop deforestation globally. But on the other hand, we have to accept that also, those countries have their interest, those countries have populations who want to have welfare and growth.
“And therefore, I wish that the European side does not stand, holding up the finger and explaining what you have to do, but that we really create a dialogue.”
Source: Channel News Asia