Rethinking Strategies and Opportunities for ASEAN in 40 Years of Establishment of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations

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Chitito Audithio Syafitri

The year 2017 marks the 40th commemoration of ASEAN – EU Dialogue Relations, which brought together the two countries to adopt a Joint Statement on the 40th Anniversary of the Establishment of ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations as well as the ASEAN-EU Plan of Action (2018-2022) to further enhance cooperation towards strategic partnerships in order to maintain peace, stability, security and prosperity in Southeast Asia, Europe and globally.

In today’s world, the multilateralism has indeed taken the crucial role, meanwhile, the emergence of new players in the chessboard of international relations has resulted in various forms of compromise and dynamic cooperation. How should the ASEAN-EU relationship be maintained?

In recent years, not only ASEAN has sought to improve their economic cooperation with the EU, in response to the latest regional trends, ASEAN is also deepening its relations with China, which listed along with the EU having the highest trade cooperation with ASEAN since 2010. Under these circumstances, it is important that ASEAN should be able to direct its cooperation with the two countries, taking into account that tensions can easily spark between China and the EU due to the difference in principles over China’s position in the WTO.

Documented as a developing country, China gains the benefits they should not enjoy, given its current economic conditions and capacity of the country, allowing China to take fewer commitments in the WTO principles. Furthermore, China Belt Road Initiative which comprises of Silk Road Economic Belt for ground access and New Maritime Silk Road for sea access has added new concern for the EU, as they are still struggling with the dilemma of transparency from Silk Road Cooperation with EU member states in the eastern region.

China’s initiative potentially undermines the credibility of the Union such as the 16+1 initiative which able to reduce the political power of the EU that meant to integrate Europe and help China’s goal of economic politicization as has been informed in POLITICO. This type of initiative is the thing that EU is willing to contest.

Indeed, if it is not wisely managed, this situation will put ASEAN’s position as a party between the EU and China in jeopardy. Therefore, the commemoration of the 40th ASEAN-EU relations shall be the moment for ASEAN to evaluate its regional cooperation strategy, where the trend of Asian cooperation should not diminish the focus on other cooperation, such as with EU that has been established so far.

In fact, cooperation with the EU is still very important in ASEAN economic and trade activities. Since the EU market has become a high-quality product standard, this leads to a situation where if a product can be equivalent to EU product standards, it will easily penetrate other markets around the world. Knowing these circumstances, ASEAN should be able to position itself wisely, maintain relations with the EU but on the other hand, maintain good cooperation with China, given China’s importance as one of the largest investors in the ASEAN market and infrastructure.

It is important that ASEAN takes a non-partisan position and absorbs the best of its cooperation with both parties. Apart from the above, there are several important ASEAN-EU cooperation underlined, one of which is the ASEAN Regional Integration Support from the EU 2013-2016 (ARISE), to support the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) or the great idea of ASEAN Connectivity. For ASEAN, this initiative is vital, knowing that Europeans has previously succeeded in implementing their European Economic Cooperation (AEC), therefore, ASEAN has the opportunity to learn directly from EU through this assistance. In addition, with regard to EU economic standard, the currently progressing cooperation named ASEAN – EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which ASEAN welcomed through the AEM – EU Trade Commissioner Consultations in Manila 2017 is also an opportunity for ASEAN to regionally adapt to the standards EU on imported goods.


Following the ARISE 2013-2016, the EU also seeks further cooperation with ASEAN for the successful implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) through ARISE Plus. This involvement is embodied in EU press releases intended to develop ASEAN’s single market, trade facilitation, reduce non-tariff barriers to trade, along with Intellectual Property Rights, civil aviation, and ASEAN statistics. As promised through the establishment of the ARISE program, the EU has truly shown its full support and assistance, evident from the amount of budget distributed to ARISE, which was recorded at EUR 41 million, this initiative is the largest EU-funded ASEAN action.


It is important to understand that EU engagement in Free Trade Agreements either with state entities or regional organizations is part of EU preemptive action to undermine its dependence on the US market, especially after the threat of Trump against key US allies through tariffs on steel and aluminum as US protection compensation to Europe vis-à-vis NATO.

The initiative was not new, in 2009 the ASEAN-EU discussion on FTA has been initiated, but due to some economic and political circumstances, it was never approved. As mentioned by Chotima Lemsawasdikul, director of the ASEAN Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand, by 2015, ASEAN is trying to focus on the work of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement.

In addition, it should be noted that individual ASEAN member countries such as Vietnam and Singapore have individually established bilateral trade agreements with the EU. In addition to these defective statements, it is imperative for ASEAN to have started an initiative to keep up with the EU’s regional high standards as part of ASEAN integration. If ASEAN achieves that goal, the fight for global markets is possible.

The writer is a Research Intern at the ASEAN Studies Center Universitas Gadjah Mada.