In an effort to strengthen ties and address challenges posed by the Ukraine war and China’s influence, the European Union (EU) has pledged billions of dollars in investment to Southeast Asia during its first full summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held in Brussels. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the shared values between the EU and ASEAN, stating, “There might be many, many miles that divide us, but there are much more values that unite us.”
However, diverging opinions regarding Russia’s war in Ukraine and concerns over tensions with China in the South China Sea dominated discussions at the summit. The EU has been actively seeking international support to confront Moscow’s aggression and the resulting global economic and political repercussions. ASEAN, consisting of 10 member nations, had varying responses to the Ukrainian conflict. While Singapore imposed sanctions on Russia, Vietnam, and Laos, with close military ties to Moscow, adopted a more neutral stance. Intense negotiations occurred over the final declaration as EU leaders pushed for a stronger condemnation of Russia’s actions.
China’s expansive claims and military presence in the South China Sea have raised tensions with Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, which also assert territorial rights over the region. Europe aims to position itself as a reliable partner for the dynamic economies of ASEAN amidst the escalating rivalry between Beijing and Washington. The summit statement emphasized the importance of maintaining peace in the South China Sea, where China has established military bases on artificial islands and rocky outcrops.
As part of its efforts to counterbalance China’s influence, von der Leyen unveiled an investment package worth 10 billion euros ($10.6 billion) over the next five years under the EU’s Global Gateway strategy. This move aligns with EU nations’ push to diversify key supply chains away from China, given the vulnerabilities exposed by the conflict in Ukraine.
While ASEAN and the EU suspended efforts to establish a joint trade deal over a decade ago, top officials from both sides expressed hopes of relaunching negotiations for a comprehensive agreement. Deals with Vietnam and Singapore have already been established, and the EU seeks to make progress with Indonesia, the largest economy in ASEAN while resuming talks with Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
During the summit, discussions were also clouded by concerns over a recent law in Indonesia criminalizing extramarital sex, which raised apprehensions among foreign visitors to the country. Indonesian President Joko Widodo emphasized the importance of an equal partnership between the EU and ASEAN, stressing that views should not be imposed or one party’s standards considered superior.
The summit’s closing statement expressed deep concern over the military coup in Myanmar, which has resulted in the loss of thousands of civilian lives and increasing conflict, as well as grave concerns regarding instability on the Korean peninsula. The EU’s commitment to Southeast Asia underscores its dedication to forging stronger ties and addressing critical regional issues in collaboration with ASEAN member nations.ReplyReply allForward