Yes, ASEAN failed to agree a communique at its last meeting in Phnom Penh, but don’t let that eclipse a significant event for Europe-Asia security relations – the first EU-US dialogue on Asia-Pacific issues. This resulted in a joint statement listing ‘common objectives’, including in the field of peace and security.
And what about that visit to China? Back to that later. In the 12 July 2012 ASEAN statement, High Representative Ashton and Secretary Clinton welcomed -
1) progress being made in regional cooperation and integration in the Asia-Pacific.
2) the central role played by ASEAN and its promotion of wider regional fora, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit.
3) an active and constructive role for China in the Asia-Pacific Region.
When it comes to Peace and security:
“Both sides intend to seek closer cooperation with Asian partners in fighting transnational crime, terrorism and addressing cyber-security issues, while ensuring freedom of expression and the free flow of information in accordance with international law. They are cooperating with partners to build regional disaster preparedness and crisis response capacity. The European Union and the United States commit to strengthening cooperation in counter-piracy based on international law including dealing with its root causes. Both sides plan to work with Asian partners on increasing maritime security based on international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and lend assistance to the development of confidence building measures to reduce the risk of crises and conflict. On the South China Sea, both sides continue to encourage ASEAN and China to advance a Code of Conduct and to resolve territorial and maritime disputes through peaceful, diplomatic and cooperative solutions.
The European Union and the United States are continuing to work to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and urge North Korea to live up to its international obligations and commitments.
Both sides also exchanged views on the recent historic transformations taking place in Burma/Myanmar and noted the importance of increased coordination on development assistance and responsible and transparent private sector investments. High Representative Ashton and Secretary Clinton decided to further cooperate with Asia-Pacific partners in promoting democracy and human rights, in particular those of vulnerable groups such as women and children as well as ethnic and religious minorities. They recognized the importance of civil society and decided to further promote people-to-people exchanges with Asia-Pacific countries.”
Sustainable development: Talk of this as a “key priority”, mention of the Lower Mekong Initiative and the Pacific Islands Forum. Discussion of the consequences of climate change in the Pacific Islands, biodiversity (really? Effective action anyone?).
Trade and economics: the importance of open markets, improving reciprocal market access for goods and services including government procurement, reduce non-tariff-barriers, legal security for investment and intellectual property rights (nothing new here).
Patryk Pawlak and Eleni Ekmektsioglou have written for ISS that:
“What stands out from the peace and security section of the statement is the EU’s pledge to support cooperative solutions for resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Given Europe’s vested interests in maritime security and the freedom of navigation, Brussels decision to adopt the United States’ procedural approach –we do not take sides but we want this dispute resolved peacefully- vis-à-vis the South China Sea was a wise choice.“
But this seems an easy and obvious choice too, considering the alternatives. Their next assertion is more interesting; that “ the EU’s recent activity in the Asia-Pacific is mostly due to pressure from the United States.” This pair believe that the EU is just following on the US coat-tails, and that this will do European interests more harm than good. Better to go to Asia with a proper shared European strategy – otherwise don’t go at all.
The EU-Asia centre has a good article covering the other results of Ashton’s trip to China, which yielded what seem to me more interesting results:
1) Agreement to hold regular talks on crisis management and the fight against piracy. These are interesting from the point of view of shared interests in maritime operations (relatively low-cost in terms of monetary and political capital, but they fly the flag), and the desire to flaunt expeditionary capabilities without seeming bellicose. Oh, and as Sir Humphrey says, a “superb means of building low level contacts between navies who may have rarely worked together before… the contacts and joint work being conducted off the coast of Africa probably represent a more valuable training opportunity than multiple training deployments by the RN into the [Asia-Pacific] region”.
2) A high-level seminar on defence and security, planned for next year. When one participant has an arms embargo on the other, this probably contributes something special to the atmosphere of such a seminar.
This was Cathy Ashton’s fifth visit to Asia, and the trend is positive in the sense that she is getting more done as time goes by. However, it will be hard to see where this is all going until we see something more concrete in terms of real cooperation on these issues.