SHARE >>>  
Prospects for EU-Asia Relations in 2020

Prospects for EU-Asia Relations in 2020

9 March 2020

The EU-Asia Centre welcomed Gunnar Wiegand (Managing Director for Asia-Pacific, EEAS) on 9 March to discuss prospects for EU-Asia relations in 2020. The questions from the audience of diplomats, experts, academics and members of media were moderated by Fraser Cameron the Director of EU-Asia Centre.

Focus on Asia

Mr Wiegand said that the new Commission would continue to focus on Asia. Josep Borrell had been exposed to several Asian foreign ministers at the ASEM meeting in Madrid in December, the Raisina Dialogue in India and then the Munich security conference. Mrs von der Leyen had much experience of Asia during her time as German defence minister, while Charles Michel already had an international profile as prime minister of Belgium.

Bilateral Relations

The preparations for the many summits in the pipeline in 2020 have had to take account of the corona virus situation. The India summit has been postponed and the EU-China summit the end of March may also be postponed, The summits with Japan and South Korea in May would still take place – but the situation was very difficult just now to plan anything.

EU wanted to have a comprehensive EU-China Investment Treaty covering state subsidies, technology transfers and intellectual property rights by the September summit in Leipzig. However, the ambitions will not be diluted to meet artificial political deadlines for the deal. In general, the EU looks to deepen its partnership with China on security and foreign policy issues, such as Iran, Afghanistan and Korean peninsula

While the EU agrees with the US on many objectives on negotiating with China, it does not agree on the methods – such as using national security exception under WTO rules to implement tariffs. As regards to the South China Sea, the EU supports transparent negotiations for the code of conduct that respects international law under UNCLOS.

Multilateral relations

ASEM was an important forum to work with Asian partners on matters of common interest. The November summit in Phnom Penh will reaffirm the shared commitment to the multilateral system and rules based international order.

The EU-ASEAN relationship has become a de facto strategic partnership. There is a strong shared conviction that geopolitical rivalry between the US and China should not impact negatively the prosperity and integration of the two regions. The announcement of a formal agreement on strategic partnership is currently only a matter of dates. The contentious issues (palm oil) the EU has with individual countries within ASEAN and vice versa have not affected the broad consensus on intensifying the region to region cooperation on either side.

Brexit will require the EU's Asian partners to see the organization as more continental entity, as the UK was a window to understand the EU in the Asia. It remains to be seen whether the Asian countries will agree to continue the FTAs negotiated by the EU, the world’s second largest economy, with the UK on bilateral basis.

Corona virus

The EU has been exchanging information at expert and top level with China as well as other countries. 53 tons of medical supplies have been delivered to China in support. The peak in the EU is still ahead and the EU is looking to learn lessons from other countries. Improving the transparency and efficiency of the global response will be focus in future.

EU Green Deal

The EU is committed to reach climate neutrality by 2050. As already the greenest part of the world, there is a lot of interest in the European experience. Asian partners agree on the need of strong action on climate, even if there is some disagreement on methods. The EU maintains that the proposed import carbon tax is not a protectionist measure, but only intended to ensure a level playing field as climate demands on European companies increase.

EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy

The Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 to be agreed this year will be important to show the financial backing behind the strategy. The EU’s connectivity strategy is not intended to provide public financing to infrastructure, but to support public-private partnerships and private investment through financial institutions. It has already helped to shape the global principles for infrastructure development. Fiscal sustainability, level playing field and high quality development have made it to ASEAN summit documents as well as led to China introducing them for BRI. Following the connectivity partnership with Japan, the EU is looking for new partnerships, such as South Korea and India. Synergies with the US Blue Dot Network infrastructure initiative and China’s BRI will also be explored.

Thai Ambassador Srisodapol Manasvi, highlighted the strong role of the EU’s private sector in connectivity development, such as the Airbus contract with Thai authorities to help turn U-tapao Airport into a regional maintenance hub.

Human Rights

The EU continues to keep human rights on its foreign policy agenda – such as its recent support for women’s rights in Afghanistan after the US-Taleban peace deal. The EU will continue to balance its strategic interests and actions for human rights in full context of each bilateral relation. The recent withdrawal of Cambodia from Everything but Arms trade scheme was due to the seriousness of the political rights violations. Thousands of opposition local counselors and parliamentarians were removed from office by the regime in addition to dissolution of their party and prosecution of their leadership. By comparison the recent dissolution of an opposition party in Thailand was done by a constitutional court allowed the affected deputies to stay in the parliament. While regretful, it did not warrant postponing the FTA negotiations and severing the dialogue with Thailand. Cambodia has until August to remedy the situation before the withdrawal takes effect.


In conclusion Fraser Cameron thanked Mr Wiegand for his comprehensive overview of EU-Asia relations. Asia was indeed a fascinating continent, home to two-thirds of the world’s population, with many cultures and religions, plus a dynamic growth record. The EU simply had to increase its engagement across the board with the Asia-Pacific region.