BRUSSELS (dpa) – EU leaders courted influence with their counterparts from the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit on Wednesday but did not reach agreement on a joint condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The anticipated joint-EU-ASEAN statement on the invasion only said “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine,” and criticised the conflict’s impact on the global economy.
All participants however reaffirmed “the need to respect the sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
Meeting in Brussels to mark 45 years of relations with ASEAN, EU leaders want closer ties with the strategic political region as well as to further develop economic interests against the background of competition from China.
The European Union wants “to be a player and not a playing field,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on arrival, setting out the bloc’s ambitions to engage with South-East Asia.
China however is “building their influence” in the region with investments in technology and infrastructure, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas warned.
Across the world “there is a battle of offers” happening, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said, stressing that the bloc needs to step up investments abroad.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a €10-billion ($10.6-billion) package of infrastructure investments until 2027 in the ASEAN region in the summit’s opening ceremony.
“If we want to link our zones of growth, we need to upgrade our economies,” von der Leyen said.
The investments from a strategic EU fund set up up to vie for influence beyond the bloc’s borders but the size of the first €10 billion euro package has come under scrutiny.
The investment “certainly is not enough,” Borrell said earlier, stressing that the roll-out of the strategic fund was a work in progress.
The bloc has also identified South-East Asia as strategic in efforts to diversify supply chains and avoid an over-dependence on China as an export market.
“This region is a vibrant economy,” Borrell said, adding that it will continue to grow in the coming years.
Closer ties between the EU and ASEAN also required further work, according to Indonesian President Joko Widodo. “If we want to build a better partnership, partnership must be based on equality,” he said.
“There must be no imposition of views,” he added, without being specific. Legislation in Indonesia to criminalize sex outside of marriage from 2025 has come under criticism in Europe, also amid questions about whether it will apply to international tourists.
EU and ASEAN leaders also underlined the importance of peace and stability in the disputed South China Sea. China and ASEAN member Philippines have repeatedly clashed over their claims to the regional waters.
The statement called for an end to the violence in Myanmar and the release of political prisoners. Myanmar has been in political turmoil since a coup on February 1, 2021 and the military has brutally cracked down on protests.
The EU and ASEAN also signed an air travel agreement approved back in October. Both sides agreed to work closer in energy and trade matters.
ASEAN has 10 members: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmar was not represented at the summit as the military junta was not invited.