EUROPEAN Union leaders met their counterparts from Southeast Asia for a summit in Brussels on Wednesday, looking to bolster ties in the face of the war in Ukraine and challenges from China.
Europe is keen to boost trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which counts some of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
“There is a need for Europeans to reconnect with Asean, one of the most dynamic areas in the world,” the French presidency said.
The EU has been on a diplomatic push to galvanize a global front against Moscow as its invasion has sent economic and political shock waves around the world.
But Asean’s 10 nations have been divided in their response to the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine.
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Singapore has gone along with Western sanctions on Russia, while Vietnam and Laos, which have close military ties to Moscow, have remained more neutral.
Along with Thailand, they abstained from a United Nations vote in October condemning Russia’s attempted annexation of regions of Ukraine seized in February.
The diverging views led to intense wrangling over a final declaration from the summit as the EU pushed for stronger language to condemn Moscow.
An EU official said Brussels was satisfied in the end that it sent a “crystal clear message” of the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.
While Europe presses for a tougher response to Russia, there is another global giant looming over the summit.
Chinese claims over the South China Sea have set it against some neighbors and sparked fears in Europe over trade flows through the key global thoroughfare.
But China remains the biggest trade partner for Asean and many in the region are wary of distancing themselves from their giant neighbor.
The EU is keen to pitch itself as a reliable partner for Southeast Asia’s dynamic economies amid the growing rivalry between Beijing and Washington.
The EU and Asean are each other’s third-largest trading partner and Europe sees the region as a key source for raw materials and wants to increase access to its booming markets.
EU nations are pushing to diversify key supply chains away from China as the war in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s vulnerabilities.
The EU is set to unveil investments that could be worth 10 billion euros ($10.6 billion) for the region under its Global Gateway strategy, designed as a counterweight to China’s largesse.
Asean and the EU suspended their push for a joint trade deal over a decade ago, and Brussels has focused on striking agreements with individual members.
So far, deals with Vietnam and Singapore are in place, but the bloc is keen to make progress with Asean’s largest economy Indonesia and to resume talks with Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., acting as lead coordinator for the Asean, secured the commitment of European Council President Charles Michel in various areas, which include trade and climate mitigation.
The two leaders met Wednesday (Manila time) ahead of the formal opening of the Asean-EU Commemorative Summit here.
Marcos pointed out how the Asean increased its presence in the global stage through regional economic integration and supply chain resilience, giving it a vital role in the world economy, “as shown clearly by their growth with systems already in place.”
The President emphasized that with economic progress, there must also be a corresponding responsibility to ensure environmental sustainability, thus the need for the Asean and EU to band together to operationalize the green fund on climate change, and the damage and loss policy.
One particular step was the establishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) that will act as the financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The GCF aims to encourage the paradigm shift toward low-emission and climate-resilient development by providing support to developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Michel expressed the EU’s eagerness to work with the Philippines and the Asean to mitigate the effects of climate change.
WITH KRISTINA MARALIT