If we really want ASEAN to emerge stronger from the ongoing crises caused by the pandemic, then the regional bloc needs new allies and the European Union is one of them.
This can really become a win-win situation as the latter tries to expand its global reach while the former needs resources, not only financial but also in the form of new ideas and in terms of a new level of ambition. in the construction. a strong regional institution, with which the Europeans could certainly help.
The end of last year saw improved relations between the two blocs who now see themselves as strategic partners.
This new form of cooperation is important because it has enormous development potential not only at the political level with more structured dialogue and interactions between leaders, but also from a technical point of view where the technical agencies of both organizations can work. together, undertaking new joint research projects for example.
It is also exciting from the point of view of interpersonal cooperation with more interactions between young people.
Very recently, the former President of the European Commission and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a true European statesman, chaired with the Secretary General of Asean Datuk Lim Jock Hoi the first youth conference on Asean -Italy: a partnership for development.
Although this is a program outside the formal framework of the EU institutional framework, it is an example of the endless possibilities that interpersonal relationships can offer at bilateral and multilateral levels.
In addition, Europeans are now mobilizing with the approval of a new strategy, the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which can be interpreted as a strong statement in favor of multilateralism and cooperation. interregional.
Part of a common approach to the region’s security and defense, a desire to promote better connectivity, trade and research on innovation, the document sets out ambitious goals for an EU that still has lacked a coherent approach to the Asia-Pacific region.
Complementary to the action plan of the EU maritime security strategy, the new Indo-Pacific strategy aims, among other things, “to cooperate with the navies of the partners and to strengthen their capacities if necessary, to put in place a full monitoring of maritime safety and freedom of navigation, according to international law, in particular UNCLOS, and take measures to ensure environmental safety in the region â.
While China has undoubtedly been a primary consideration, analysis and, to some extent, concerns that have guided the drafting, the ambition of the strategy goes far beyond attempting to limit the Beijing’s assertion in the South China Sea.
It is clear that the EU and its member states, the so-called Team Europe, do not have the prowess to compete militarily against China in distant and remote waters at the moment, but it is nonetheless a an important step from the Europeans, sending a clear message to their Southeast Asian counterparts that they will not be alone if the situation deteriorates.
Geopolitically and militarily, we will have more opportunities for exchanging views between Europeans and their counterparts in the region and this is a significant opportunity for ASEAN countries also to deepen new relations beyond their traditional defense partners.
Yet, we should not think of this new document only in terms of security dimensions, but rather see it as a model for a much stronger political engagement of the EU in the Asia-Pacific region.
Along with trade, sustainability will also be important in the new European approach and, for example, the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific also refers to green investments and the potential mobilization of the European Fund for the Sustainable Development Plus which, if harnessed in ASEAN, could have a transformative impact to ensure that the region moves closer to post-pandemic reconstruction better positioned to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
While the military from the ASEAN countries (minus the current ruling junta in Myanmar which should be ostracized by the whole world and the new sanctions that have just been imposed by the EU on the generals could hopefully help here) will certainly draw some comparative notes between their own Asean Perspectives on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and the EU’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, the Europeans want to do a lot more and they are right.
More interesting ‘concrete details’ will come by September 2021, when the European Commission and the High Representative for External Affairs present a longer and more detailed joint communication on the EU’s strategy for cooperation in the Indo- Peaceful.
ASEAN would certainly be a central feature of this next detailed plan and the hope is that Europeans will really push for something transformative and symbolically powerful.
Letâs be clear: Dealing with foreign ships in Southeast Asian waters is essential, but the real regional political game will be won if ASEAN draws closer together politically and through people-to-people relationships.
For starters, what about investing in a daring academic exchange program inspired by the Erasmus program?
In addition, the EU should also have a special track of essential partnerships with the “free” nations of Asean, countries founded on democratic values ââand full respect for human rights.
It is these countries that should be fully encouraged to pursue regional integration based on âvaluesâ.
The field of human rights is an area in which the EU now has a wide range of new instruments to promote its global reach without compromising its fundamental principles.
Tools such as the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, the Action Plan for European Democracy and the EU’s New Global Mechanism for Sanctions human rights should be central to any engagement in the region.
This new decade could foresee a stronger EU in the region that will act not as an authoritarian big brother, but as a true partner, defending its fundamental interests but also advancing those of a free and more democratic Asia-Pacific. – The Jakarta Post / ANN