The EU is stepping up cooperation with ASEAN to limit Chinese influence in Southeast Asia

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Charles Michel, Hun Sen and Ursula von der Leyen at the EU-ASEAN summit (photo: consilium.europa.eu) The European Union is consistently trying to strengthen its presence in Asia in order to create a counterbalance to China – an all-powerful power that dominates the region. At Wednesday’s summit, which marked 45 years of diplomatic relations, European leaders and representatives of countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) discussed the possibility of strengthening intercontinental cooperation in areas such as: trade, ecological and digital transformation and care health. Both blocs have already signed an agreement that will make it easier for their airlines to expand their services. Although the summit ended with the signing of a joint declaration, commentators have no doubts about the divergent priorities of the two organizations. During the meeting, European leaders insisted on strong and critical language towards Russia, while for ASEAN representatives the declaration of closer economic ties was crucial. As expected, it was not possible to work out a common position on the Putin regime. In the final version of the signed document, one can read about the condemnation of the war in Ukraine, which has caused pain and human suffering and deepens the already existing weaknesses of the world economy. Criticism of the Russian Federation was accepted by the majority of votes, which indicates a lack of unanimity among the representatives of the countries participating in the meeting. Despite this, European bureaucrats are satisfied with the progress of the talks, emphasizing that the most important thing is to make people aware that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is not a problem for Europe, but for the whole world. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, declared that the EU will allocate EUR 10 billion by 2027 as part of the EU’s Global Gateway strategy, designed as a counterbalance to the generosity of China, which in recent years has established new trade contacts and developed infrastructure, thus realizing the vision of the New Silk Road (often referred to as the One Belt, One Road Initiative). According to Brussels, there is a strong need to diversify investment sources in the region of Southeast Asia, as well as the need to cooperate with reliable partners. In this way, the EU wants to extend its trade links beyond free trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam and negotiations with Indonesia. EU countries are pushing to diversify key supply chains away from China as the war in Ukraine has highlighted Europe’s vulnerabilities. As underlined by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, trade is an opportunity to create strong ties, not only economic but also political. China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner, but its expansive claims to the South China Sea have sparked tensions with Southeast Asian countries also claiming parts of a waterway that is crucial to global trade. The South China Sea is crossed by routes from China to India, the Middle East and further to Europe. Moreover, interest in these waters has increased after the discovery of large reserves of oil and natural gas under the seabed. Currently, apart from China, claims to the waters are also made by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore. The United States, which after World War II is considered a guarantor of peace in the region, is also involved in the matter. Meanwhile, the European Union is taking advantage of the growing tension between Beijing and Washington, presenting itself as a reliable partner in times of crisis.

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