Germany and ASEAN – Fullerton lecture February 2013

The latest IISS-Fullerton Lecture  (08 February 2013) gave us a speech by the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, entitled:

Europe at a Crossroads: The Path Towards Fresh Growth” (video here)

Half of the speech was devoted to countering the prevailing narrative about Europe being on the way down. Then on security issues, Mr. Westerwelle had this to say :

[… big statistics on EU and German – Asian trade] “That is why Germany now pushes for deeper and more comprehensive European political engagement in Asia – and with ASEAN. We encourage the EU to take a more strategic role and to bring Europe’s expertise into the emerging Asian security architecture. We need to consider further upgrading EU-ASEAN relations. And, with our Asian partners, we need to map out the path towards the EU’s active participation in the East Asia Summit. 

In shared responsibility we need to address the challenges of our times: climate change and organised crime, new security threats and disaster relief, financial market stability and sustainable growth. After all, our mutual interdependence will only grow. Europe’s prosperity depends on stable and open trading routes across Asian waters. Our two regions share a fundamental interest in political stability and a global free trade and investment order.”

Prashanth Parameswaran  has just offered some sensible suggestions about how EU-ASEAN ties could be improved (link). To this I would just add that as a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, the EU could also work much more on Confidence Building Mechanisms and Preventive Diplomacy with ASEAN and the other ARF Participants. ASEAN itself has a surprisingly bold agenda on peacekeeping, for example. What better way to burnish the EU’s credentials for becoming a member of the East Asian Summit? The EU has to earn it!

But perhaps  the EU is not quite there yet. The speech quoted above is part of a familiar pattern: nations in Europe and Asia are calling for more European involvement in Asian security affairs, but the multilateral institutions are not so responsive. At a recent roundtable on NATO – Asia security dialogue (7 March 2013, organized with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Brussels), I was quite struck by the degree of unanimity among the Asian participants on the desirability of the EU and Europeans playing  a bigger role in Asian security affairs, e.g. as a mediator in maritime disputes. NATO and the EU were there to listen, so maybe we will see something happening on these lines soon – perhaps a track II initiative at first.

But judging by Mr. Westerwelle’s speech, Germany is not quite there either. In the Q&A session (around minute 44 in this video), Westerwelle is pressed on the security content of his talk. He tries a bit of humour to deflect it, saying – ‘try to read a bit between the lines…it was clear enough that every one of  you can understand what I said, but it was so unclear that no-one could quote me‘. He says he mentioned ‘regional waters’, for example, and the ‘region south of the mediterrenean sea’. He finally excuses the thinness of the security content of this speech by saying that because he is in Singapore, he preferred to focus on economic issues…

Sadly the Cyprus crisis has resulted in the postponement of the EU-Japan summit that should have taken place today, so we will have to wait a little longer to see if the EU is ready to signal a ‘rebalance’ of its economic and security interests in Asia. I note however that the trade item on the agenda is going ahead anyway. Apparently the security component of the relationship can wait..

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