On 23 November the EU-Asia Centre organised a panel discussion on ASEM, EAS and EU-ASEAN relations. In his introductory remarks, Fraser Cameron, Director of EU-Asia Centre, underscored the timely opportunity it provided to discuss the outcomes of the 12th East Asia Summit (EAS), the EU-ASEAN 40th commemorative summit in Manila, as well as the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) ministerial meeting in Myanmar, that were respectively held on 14 November and 20-21 November.
Thailand Ambassador Manisavi Srisodapol outlined the state of play of ASEAN at 50. It was a 600m strong market with a good growth record (4.5%). Tourism was booming, especially in Thailand. Given the political diversity and the huge economic gaps between member states, it was important for ASEAN to move forward at a speed with which everyone was comfortable. To fulfil its aspirations of peace, security and development, ASEAN had established various mechanisms and dialogues. The current focus was on connectivity, RCEP (trade deal), climate change, terrorism and non-traditional security threats. The EU was not only seen as a significant trading and investment partner but as a provider of ideas and values. This was valuable for the long-term humanistic goals of ASEAN.
Giuseppe Busini, ASEAN Advisor, EEAS, said that President Tusk had given a similar message at both summits. At the lunch, he had underlined the importance of the EU’s growing involvement with ASEAN including in trade, investment (46% increase in 2016), financial assistance, climate change and connectivity. There was also increasing cooperation on security issues. Both sides shared a commitment to a rules-based international order. There was a desire to implement the Plan of Action as fully as possible and resume talks towards an EU-ASEAN FTA. A working group was assessing the next steps. The summit was historical, as the EU – along with Canada – attended the summit as a guest of the chair for the first time. Although there was no agreement to widen the membership of the EAS, it was hoped that the EU might be invited under the same formula in 2018.
Singapore Ambassador Jaya Ratnam said that as incoming chair of ASEAN, Singapore would work to maintain the centrality and resilience of the regional bloc. The focus would be on innovation, e-commerce, connectivity, while strengthening cooperation on education, defence and terrorism. The EU and ASEAN should now deliver what had been agreed in the Plan of Action, and start a scoping exercise on a region to region FTA, building on the FTAs agreed with the EU and individual ASEAN countries. But haste should not override quality. An early conclusion of the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement would be instrumental in increasing connectivity between both regions. Another small country (Brunei) would be providing the next Secretary General of ASEAN.
Steven Everts, ASEM Advisor, EEAS, considered that EU-ASEAN relations had reached a new level and now both sides would really have to deliver. The EU did not want to have a strategic partnership for the label but wanted to focus on substance. Trade and investment were doing well but relations should now focus more on security-related issues such as climate change, SDGs, maritime security and cybersecurity. The EU also offered practical and concrete support on human rights issues at ASEAN level or with individual Member states.
The ASEM ministerial meeting in Nayy Pyi Taw, had been very result-oriented. There had been three significant achievements. First, agreement on a common definition of ‘connectivity.’ Second, a commendable chair statement (with good wording on regional security concerns (DPRK), despite difficulty in reaching common and substantial language on Ukraine and maritime security issues. Third, a good side-meeting paving the way for progress on the Rohingya refugee crisis based on the Kofi Annan plan.
Looking to the future of ASEM and the Brussels summit next year, it was important to ensure that leaders had time for a free-ranging discussion without too much bureaucratic preparation. Statements could be further reduced and reflect more the actual discussions at the meeting.
In the discussion, questions were raised about ASEAN unity, the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the US’ withdrawal (TPP11 moving ahead); the EU’s participation in the EAS; and human rights (EU’s engagement welcomed on that front, yet could adopt a more diplomatic manner),