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Zia Hasina

Bangladesh: EU Election Observation Mission on hold

23 December 2013

The EEAS issued a statement on 20 December saying Ashton had ‘decided to halt for now the preparations for the deployment of an Election Observation Mission’ to Bangladesh. Nevertheless, the EU remained ‘ready to observe the elections should the political conditions allow for the holding of transparent, inclusive and credible elections.’

In early December, Bangladesh’s opposition BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) announced it would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for 5 January because of the government’s failure to install a non-party caretaker administration in the run up to the elections. The ruling Awami League, pointing to a supreme court decision in favour of the government’s position, has pledged to go ahead with the elections despite the opposition boycott.

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Joe Biden Abe

Biden stresses US as Asian power

3 December 2013

US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Japan, China and Korea this week seeks to send a clear message -  that the US will remain an active Pacific power for the foreseeable future. Coming in the wake of the Chinese decision to establish an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, Biden will reassure Japan and Korea that the alliance with the US is as strong as ever. He will also express his ‘deep concern’ at the Chinese move. President Obama has already responded to the Chinese move by sending B52 bombers through the zone without any prior warning to China.

During his first stop in Tokyo, Biden said that the US was ‘a resident Pacific power, we\'re here to stay, and we\'re actively engaged on the full spectrum of issues in the region.’ In a joint statement the two sides called on China to rescind the ADIZ decision which has been widely criticised including in Korea. Both sides pledged to carry out joint surveillance missions and work together in development assistance and disaster relief operations in Asia. Apart from the situation in the East China Sea, talks with Japanese leaders focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how to bring about a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

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Third Plenum CCP

Assessment of the CCP Third Party Plenum

29 November 2013

On 26 November, the EU-Asia Centre and the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies (BICCS) held a panel debate to assess the Third Plenary Session of 18th CPC Central Committee. All panellists were agreed that the economic reforms announced on 15 November were very comprehensive and urgently needed. The key question, however, would be the speed and effectiveness of implementation.

Jin Ling, Research Fellow of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) said there was a clear trend towards the internationalization of the Chinese Yuan and commended the reforms designed to combat climate change and improve China’s energy mix. Looking at EU-China relations, she saw both at a critical juncture in their development. Much depended on the next steps. The summit between China and the CEECs (16+1 Summit) was complementary to relations with the EU and were not part of a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Different regions possessed different characteristics that made it reasonable for China to deal with them separately.

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EU-ASEAN - Jakarta Seminar on Maritime Security

27 November 2013

On 18-19 November the Habibie Centre in Jakarta, together with the Indonesian MFA and the EEAS, organised an expert seminar on maritime security bringing together EU and ASEAN officials and experts. Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre, was one of the EU experts and rapporteur for the seminar.

In his opening address, Le Luong Minh, ASEAN Secretary General, said that seminar demonstrated that the EU and ASEAN could work together on difficult and complex issues including maritime security. He hoped that the seminar, part of the EU-ASEAN Plan of Action, would come up with practical recommendations for the next ministerial in Brussels in spring 2014.

Speakers agreed that maritime issues were complex, inter-related and cross-cutting in nature. They covered illegal fishing, safety of navigation; piracy and armed robbery at sea; marine environment; conservation of marine biodiversity resources; marine tourism; maritime connectivity, and many others.

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Elections Maldives

Elections in South Asia – Prospects for Stability?

18 November 2013

The Maldives have elected Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) as president. He won the run-off vote on 16 November with 51.3% while ex-president Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivan Democratic Party (MDP) received 48.6% of votes.

After the Supreme Court had declared the first elections void and cancelled the following two, voters went to the polls on 9 November, where Nasheed narrowly missed securing an outright majority by receiving 47% of votes.

Voter turnout was high with 91.4%. The EU had declared its readiness ‘to consider appropriate measures should the poll on 16 November not bring the electoral process to a successful conclusion.’

The newly-elected president Yameen is the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the Maldives for 30 years. In his inauguration speech on 17 November, Yameen spoke about the dire economic situation and pledged to reduce state budget expenditure. Given that the election finally went smoothly, the prospects for the building of a stable government appear good.

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3rd Plenum

A study in ambiguity: the results of the Third Plenum of the CCP Central Committee

13 November 2013

The rest of the world has been waiting to hear what China’s leaders intend to do with the economy over the next decade. The Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, which ended on 12 November, was meant to conclude the year-long debate on China’s economic reform following Xi Jinping’s coming to power. It has done so. But if some of its messages are encouraging, the Plenum communiqué has left key issues open and will probably disappoint the pro-reform lobby.

The stakes of this debate are high for the global economy. Many of the world’s major economies have serious problems. China is now the world’s biggest trader and will be its biggest economy in ten years. The success or failure of its economic policy and the stability of its economic development really matter to the rest of us.

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EU-ROK Summit

EU-Korea Summit Boosts Relations

11 November 2013

Following visits to France, the UK and Belgium, President Park of Korea met Presidents van Rompuy and Barroso on 8 November for the annual EU-Korea summit. Both sides issued a declaration commemorating fifty years of diplomatic relations and setting out a vision for the future. This was the first visit by President Park to EU headquarters.

In a joint press statement both sides expressed satisfaction with the state of relations and looked forward to deepening cooperation in specific fields. EU Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, however, complained about Korean foot-dragging on implementing parts of the FTA relating to financial services.

Both sides agreed on several new initiatives including cooperation on EU security missions, cyber security and arms control. Korea already contributes to EU-led maritime operations in the Gulf of Aden and makes a financial contribution to the maritime training centre in Djibouti.

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Ashton Thein Sein

EU-Myanmar Task Force Meeting

11 November 2013

This week Catherine Ashton leads a high-level EU team to Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw for the first meeting of the EU-Myanmar Task Force which aims to boost EU public and private support for the reform process in Myanmar. The EU will also offer experts to help Myanmar prepare for the 2015 general election and for the arduous task of chairing ASEAN in 2015.

Ashton will co-chair the Task Force together with Myanmar\'s Union Minister U Soe Thane. Three other EU Commissioners, Tajani (Industry), Piebalgs (Development) and Cioloş (Agriculture) will also participate, thus underlining the breadth of the EU’s commitment to helping Myanmar.  The European Parliament will be represented by Vice-President Isabelle Durant, plus Elisabeth Jeggle, Cristian Dan Preda, Csaba Sogor, David Martin and Robert Goebbels.

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ASEAN Secretary General calls for closer ties with EU

21 October 2013

Speaking at a conference organised by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the EU-Asia Centre on 15 October, Le Luong Minh, ASEAN Secretary General, said that the EU was a long-standing and valued partner. It was important to align future EU-ASEAN cooperation to take into account new developments, requirements and needs of the post-2015 ASEAN Community. There was much the two bodies could do together to deepen their relations, from trade and investment to closer cooperation in the multilateral institutions.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed and stressed that the EU and ASEAN were ‘natural partners that share the same DNA.’ The EU supported ASEAN’s integration and recognised its centrality in an evolving Asian regional architecture. The EU wanted to see ‘a strong, united and self-confident ASEAN which we can address in a block-to-block dialogue.’

The conference report, programme, and the speeches of Didier Reynders, Le Luong Minh and David O\'Sullivan are now available.

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Obama's Absence

Obama’s Absence Weakens US in Asia

9 October 2013

President Obama’s decision to stay at home and miss two important meetings in Asia - the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting and the East Asia Summit (EAS) has sparked much debate about US decline in the region. Despite Secretary of State, John Kerry’s protestations to the contrary, most commentators have viewed this week’s events as enhancing China’s standing in the region at the expense of the US.

There were few substantial outcomes at the APEC meeting. Leaders issued a statement calling for a last-ditch attempt to save the Doha Round while the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) stated that they were on track to complete the negotiations by the end of the year. This is very optimistic as many difficult chapters have not been agreed and there is still the possibility of South Korea joining the talks. There must also be a question mark as to whether President Obama could get any trade deal through the present US Congress.

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