High time for strategic ASEAN-EU partnership

Danial Norjidi

Germany and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states form relations based on partnership and common interests; it is more the case for the European Union (EU), which is why it is high time that the EU and ASEAN become full-fledged strategic partners, which Germany hopes will coincide with the Brunei Chair of ASEAN 2021.

This was said by Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Brunei Darussalam Gerda Winkler and Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Indonesia, ASEAN and Timor-Leste Petter Schoof in a joint statement on the policy guidelines adopted by the German government for the Indo-Pacific region.

“Not only during the COVID-19 pandemic is it obvious that multilateralism has become more important than ever before,” the envoys said. “Stronger political, economic and security policy networks lead to a reduction in unilateral dependencies and preserve both sovereignty and our ability to act, or in short, a free and active foreign policy.”

They also affirmed in their statement of Germany and the EU’s, as well as ASEAN’s commitment to the further integration of the Indo-Pacific region into multilateral organisations and the promotion of regional multilateral structures in the spirit of true partnership and a level playing field.

“Multilateral agreements are the most effective way to make progress in climate and environmental protection, rule-based trade, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation, as well as the protection of human rights,” they said. “In the coming years, Germany will strategically position itself and step up its engagement vis-à-vis ASEAN. To this end, we will expand our cooperation with ASEAN institutions and continue to support the ASEAN Secretariat.”

Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Brunei Darussalam Gerda Winkler. PHOTO: EMBASSY OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY IN BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

As a member of the EU and current presidency of the Council of the EU, Germany “will strengthen the role of the EU as a partner of ASEAN in close cooperation with its EU partners”, the ambassadors said, adding that the European country “will spare no effort to fill a new strategic partnership between ASEAN and EU with life and substance, including a more substantial contribution to security and stability”.

“In the past few years,” the envoys said, “the importance of the Indo-Pacific region in both economic and political terms has increased markedly. With its policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific, the German government is setting out the course for its future policy on the countries of the region”.

They noted that more than half of the world’s population live in countries around the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. As a result, the region “now accounts for almost half of the global gross domestic product (GDP)” and it’s “gaining in economic and political importance”.

They added, “In recent decades, countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam have seen rapid economic growth. At the same time, the strategic competition in the region is increasing.

“The Indo-Pacific is becoming the key to shaping the international order in the 21st Century. (And) ASEAN lies at the very centre of the region; its relations to both Germany and the EU are growing ever closer.”

The ambassadors hope that by the end of this year, “we will be able to form a strategic partnership”.

They also said, “Shifting geopolitical power structures in the Indo-Pacific has a direct impact on Germany and the EU at large, (as) our economies are closely connected through global supply chains.

“Major trading routes pass through the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific. If conflicts in the region arose, it would have immediate repercussions for us in Europe.

“Open markets and free trade are crucial for Germany as a trading nation. The share of the broader region, including South and East Asia in Germany’s trade balance, has risen steadily in recent decades and now amounts to over 20 per cent of our total trade in goods, or just under EUR420 billion in 2019.”

However, they said, “the rapid economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region also brings about rising greenhouse gas emissions as a challenge for the global climate and the planet’s ecosystem”.

They urged that “in the interest of future generations, our common goal must be to ensure environmentally friendly and socially compatible growth in the Indo-Pacific region”.

The ambassadors said Germany intends on stepping up its cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners in all aspects of a climate policy, from adaptation to climate change, protection of biodiversity, to promoting renewable energies and energy efficiency.

“We will look for collaboration and offer our assistance to substantially reduce emissions, in line with overall efforts of the EU in achieving climate commitments with partners in the region which go beyond the current obligations,” they said. “We will also increase bilateral and regional cooperation to reduce marine litter and to protect marine ecosystems (and) expand our projects on low-emission and sustainable palm oil development with relevant producer countries, with an emphasis on supporting smallholders.”

The envoys believe that a coherent network of free and comprehensive trade agreements will “eliminate existing obstacles to trade and investments on both sides – the EU and ASEAN – as well as agree on important environmental and social standards, climate protection and competition policy, subsidies and the protection of intellectual property”, adding that the lesson drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic “cannot be to deglobalise supply chains and trade relations” but rather “to diversify them and make them more resilient”.