The world is too big for one-size fits all politics, culture or perspective, but too small and interconnected for global powers to tackle planetary-scale problems asymmetrically.
The starkness of this reality has been brought sharply into focus over the past few years, as the interlinking events of war, pandemic, and climate change haven’t spared any corner of the globe from their fallout.
We may draw conceptual, physical and cultural lines between ourselves, but at the end of the day we’re all still just humans coexisting together on a spinning planet, facing the same interlocking global issues our collective actions have caused.
In light of the emerging overlaps in international issues, the world’s two most successful regional integration unions – the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – met in Brussels this week for the first-ever EU-ASEAN Commemorative Summit, to reaffirm their strategic partnership, discuss closer cooperation, and strengthen the many economic ties between them.
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) December 14, 2022
The European and Asian continents stand many thousands of miles apart at opposite ends of the world, but many EU and ASEAN member states are in fact united by shared values, trade partnerships and similar political standpoints.
“We have a shared interest in promoting international law and international norms and standards, thereby contributing to a peaceful, fair and prosperous world,” said the EU and ASEAN leaders who attended the summit in their joint statement.
The EU and ASEAN have been strengthening diplomatic ties for 45 years, but as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stated: this week’s inaugural summit was the “perfect occasion to open a new chapter in our partnership” as “two regions that have so much in common, despite being a world apart.”
“We have behind us over four decades of partnership, and we will continue championing peace, stability and prosperity together,” said President Ursula von der Leyen at the summit, adding that despite the great physical distance, “our destinies are linked more than ever before.”
The EU and @ASEAN have behind them over four decades of partnership.
We share the same unyielding commitment to multilateralism and the international rule of law.
And we will continue championing peace, stability and prosperity.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 14, 2022
The summit intended to reinforce the bridge between 27 EU and nine ASEAN member states (the 10th ASEAN member, Myanmar, was not invited due to the ongoing coup), bringing them closer together as “strategic partners.”
In joining forces, the EU and ASEAN countries aim to work together and achieve their shared objectives in reinforcing international order and sustainable development.
“Both the European Union and ASEAN have multilateralism in our DNA,” said the President in her opening speech at the summit, where all leaders expressed a shared respect for the UN Charter and interest in peace, stability and prosperity.
The main talking-points that broadly defined the discussions were: energy, economic ties, trade, and investments in infrastructure.
However the urgency with which international alignment should be achieved on these topics was further contextualized against a backdrop of issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, commodity supply chains, tense geopolitics with Russia and China, the war in Ukraine, the ensuing energy and food crises, instability of the global economy, and of course, climate change.
“You, ASEAN, know what is at stake,” asserted President von der Leyen in her concluding speech at the summit, as she outlined the several landmark agreements that the EU and ASEAN drew up in just one short day of discussion.
The concluding agreements between the EU and ASEAN
One of the agreements promised by the EU was a “Global Gateway” investment package of €10 billion to ASEAN nations, intending to help member states to advance their green economies and infrastructure whilst staying on track to reach ambitious climate neutrality targets.
“Because our energy and trade cooperation will only reach its full potential if it is underpinned by the right infrastructure,” said President von der Leyen.
Another product of the summit was in the form of a €15 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) between the EU and Vietnam, whereby the bloc pledged to help speed-up Vietnam’s energy transition from fossil fuels towards renewable sources.
“We want to accelerate, together with our partners, the clean energy revolution,” stated President von der Leyen, explaining the rationale behind the new JETP agreement.
Related Articles: President Biden Launches New Indo-Pacific Trade Deal, Without Taiwan | A Just Transition to a Zero-carbon World Is Possible. Here’s How. | The Countries Leading the Way on Quitting Coal | G7 Create a ‘Climate Club’: A Step Forward?
The third main outcome of the summit was the announcement of increased trade between the EU and ASEAN regions (which are each other’s third biggest trade partners) with the ultimate goal being to negotiate a robust region-to-region free trade agreement between more of each union’s member states.
“We want to trade more with each other,” stated President von der Leyen, kicking things off by announcing a new Digital Trade Partnership between the EU and Singapore which will aim to streamline digital cooperation, reinforce the expanding digital economy, and facilitate more “forward-looking” digital trade agreements between the pair.
In these turbulent times, our solid 🇪🇺🇸🇬 relation is an invaluable asset, @leehsienloong and I agreed.
Our trade cooperation is strong and we can do much more together.
I'm glad we launched our Digital Partnership – grounded in tech, in skills and most importantly, in trust. pic.twitter.com/POK9HAZTrb
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 14, 2022
President von der Leyen concluded her final speech in highlighting the significance of reaffirming EU-ASEAN partnership by stating:
“All this is a stark reminder that today, in this world of interdependencies, there is no such thing as a European problem, or an Asian problem either. All the challenges we face today are of global nature and therefore affect all of us.”
What does the “Global Gateway” package involve?
The intention behind the hefty €10 billion “Global Gateway” investment is primarily to narrow the development gaps between EU and ASEAN states in line with the green transition.
The capital will be channeled into digital, transport, energy, climate, health, education and research sectors alike, to help ASEAN nations tackle urgent global challenges but still meet sustainable development targets.
“‘Global Gateway’ is Europe’s offer to its partners for smart, clean and secure infrastructures,” says the EU.
The package is underpinned by two EU schemes: the “Sustainable Connectivity” and “Green team Europe” initiatives.
The former will support the economically, socially and environmentally-friendly advancement of essential infrastructure to enable the move towards renewable energy sources in South East Asia. The latter will facilitate “coordinated green action” between the EU and ASEAN to bolster disaster resilience, encourage protection of the environment and biodiversity, and prevent illegal environmental activities related to logging, wildlife trafficking and air pollution.
President von der Leyen stated that the idea behind this offering is to help “strengthen ASEAN’s economy, create jobs, and be a catalyst in our fight against climate change.”
As we celebrate 45 years of cooperation between two of the world’s most successful regional integration projects, the EU’s Global Gateway enables the EU to invest in a greener, more sustainable & climate-resilient future with sustainable connections & infrastructure in @ASEAN. pic.twitter.com/RiLAMXMUTx
— EU in ASEAN (@EUinASEAN) December 15, 2022
What does the JETP with Vietnam involve?
The Just Energy Transition Partnership is an initiative to support developing nations in meeting ambitious climate goals by speeding up their green transition, whilst also ensuring that people’s livelihoods are prioritized along the way.
“It is vital that the whole civil society is involved in the green transition at all stages and no one is left behind,” says the EU.
Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, Viet Nam took a bold step towards net zero at COP 26.
The EU is ready to support you.
Today we launched the 🇻🇳 Just Energy Transition Partnership.
Together for a cleaner, greener future for Viet Nam and its people. pic.twitter.com/mjPkk58Zgh
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) December 14, 2022
Vietnam is actually the third country to set up a JETP, first to pioneer the initiative was South Africa after COP26 in Glasgow, followed by Indonesia off the back of the G20 summit last month.
The idea behind the €15 billion partnership is to encourage Vietnam to set ambitious new targets, and then for the wealthy benefactors of the International Partners Group (the European Union, United Kingdom, France, Germany, United States, Italy, Canada, Japan, Norway and Denmark) to provide the financial support required to get them there.
The targets and support agreed upon within the EU-Vietnam’s JETP to accelerate the renewable energy transition are:
- Bring forward the estimated peaking date for emissions from 2035 to 2030.
- Reduce peak coal capacity by halting investment in and closing coal-fired power plants.
- Decarbonise electricity systems by increasing the proportion of electricity generated from clean sources from 36% to at least 47% by 2030.
- Accelerate the green transition of the economy.
- Development of technical expertise through education and training.
- Create jobs in the renewable sector and support fossil fuel workers.
- Create an “enabling environment” for businesses to make the clean energy shift.
- Facilitate technology transfer and scale-up of clean energy through a “centre of excellence for renewable energy.”
If met, these goals will result in 0.5 billion tonnes less emissions by 2035.
“As a rapidly growing economy, Vietnam’s JETP will demonstrate that economic growth can be decoupled from fossil fuel energy consumption,” says the EU.
The strategic rationale behind the summit
In the face of increasing geopolitical tension, climate change, economic instability, and threat of nuclear war – all within a world still reeling from a pandemic – it serves both the EU and ASEAN member states well to form stronger intercontinental ties and highlight their mutual interests.
But given the fact that the summit’s discussions orbited around the two main nuclei of energy and trade, it’s clear that two particular vulnerabilities were at the forefront of mind for the leaders in attendance: the food, commodity and energy crises caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the growing competitive economic and political challenges from China.
In light of this, the billions of euros offered to ASEAN nations off the back of this summit, seem to not only serve as an investment in sustainable development, but as an attempt to rally more support for the global front against Putin, as well as a means to diversify trade options as food and energy prices soar and China’s presence increases.
The EU pushed for inclusion of a stronger international opposition to Russia’s war within the concluding joint leaders’ statement – an ambitious objective given that both Vietnam and Laos have military ties to Russia.
In the end, the joint EU-ASEAN statement only mentioned that “most members” condemned Russia’s invasion, revealing that some EU and ASEAN parties still held differing opinions of the war’s “situation and sanctions.”
From the ASEAN nations’ standpoint, another pressing issue to be addressed as part of the summit was the growing tensions in South East Asia around the trade shipping routes in the South China Sea, which China is claiming widespread ownership of at present.
China’s dominance here is problematic for some ASEAN nations who rely on these waters for trade routes, but is also a pressing issue for the EU, as China’s presence poses a threat to their ability to diversify supply chains.
Chinese submarines are using adversary forces in the South China Sea as practice partners, that can enhance combat capabilities and deter hostile forces from making provocative moves: experts -globaltimes.cn- pic.twitter.com/xGCeTOzA4K
— Zhang Meifang张美芳 (@CGMeifangZhang) December 11, 2022
War began in Europe this year, but its cascading effects are felt worldwide. The Covid-19 pandemic began in Asia in 2019, but no country on earth is left uninfected by the virus. Climate change is continually driven by the global north, but the worst of its impacts are often felt by the developing countries of the global south.
In short, the ripples of every crisis are spread wide across the world, and multilateral cooperation, support and solidarity will continue to be essential in navigating the uncertain path towards a more prosperous future.
That’s the core rationale behind this EU-ASEAN summit and its concluding agreements, but the finer strategic details on behalf of both sides are almost certainly more intimate and intricate in nature.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Pham Minh Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam. Featured Photo Credit: ΝΕΑ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ/Flickr