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Should the EU be involved in Asian security?

13 July 2012

Asia is certainly capturing the interest of the EU. Just as Cathy Ashton completes her fifth visit to Asia a debate has started in the policy community about whether the EU should be more involved in Asian security.

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EU-Vietnam PCA

EU and Vietnam sign PCA

28 June 2012

In an exclusive interview with the EU-Asia Centre, Pham Binh Minh, Vietnamese Foreign Minister, welcomed the signing of the partnership and cooperation agreement (PCA) in Brussels on 27 June.

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Aung San Suu Kyi

The Lady in Europe

23 June 2012

Aunf San Suu Kyi\'s European tour has drawn as much attention as previous overseas visits by icons such as Nelson Mandela or Pope John Paul II. The adulation she received at every stage of her tour was justified. But now comes the hard part; helping to reform the political and economic situation in Myanmar.

The highlight of her visit was receiving the Nobel Peace prize in Oslo, more than two decades after she was awarded the coveted award. She also addressed the ILO in Geneva, received honorary degrees from Dublin and Oxford universities, addressed both houses of parliament in London, and ended her tour dining with President Hollande in Paris.

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Caution on Japan FTA

European Parliament cautions on Japan FTA

14 June 2012

This week the European Parliament voted by 517 votes to 74, with 89 abstentions, to request the Council not to authorise the opening of trade negotiations until Parliament has stated its position. The motion, following a debate opened by Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, is not binding but a signal to the Commission that any deal will be carefully scrutinised by the Parliament which, under the Lisbon Treaty, has the right to approve all agreements with third countries.

This vote was not unexpected as most MEPs in the debate had been critical of what they described as unfair practices by Japan. Two EPP spokesmen, Daniel Caspary and Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa, said in a statement:‘As long as Japan keeps its market closed and makes life difficult for European businesses, the planned free-trade agreement with the EU must be put on hold. Before Europe sits down at the negotiating table, we want to see action on behalf of Japan. This is particularly necessary in the area of public procurement. While Japanese businesses can bid for public tenders in Europe, Japan has all but closed off its public tendering procedures to foreign companies. This is not a basis for negotiations. Europe needs a clear signal until autumn that Japan is willing to open up its market.’

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Ashton visits Pakistan

Ashton visits Pakistan to launch strategic dialogue

7 June 2012

EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton visited Islamabad on 5 June to launch the first EU-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue. After her meeting with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Ashton said that both sides had agreed a five year plan designed to cover a wide range of issues. She stressed that her visit was a demonstration of the importance the EU attaches to Pakistan. The EU would be a ‘strong and reliable partner’ now and in the future.

 

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EU-China Dialogue week

EU-China: Parliamentary, Economic and Human Rights Discussions in Brussels

1 June 2012

This week was a busy one for discussions on EU-China relations. The European Parliament hosted the annual exchange with the CCP, the EEAS hosted a round of the regular human rights dialogue and the Madariaga Foundation organised a debate on China’s economic prospects.

The third annual dialogue between the party groups in the EP and representatives of the CCP, led by Minister Wang Jiarui took place on 29 and 30 May. In the opening plenary speakers from both sides sought to emphasise the areas of common concern, especially the need to work together in a period of grave economic turmoil in Europe. Minister Wang and Qu Xing (President of the China Institute of International Studies) outlined some of the differences in approach on the foreign policy front – Syria, Libya, Iraq – all examples of the West’s penchant for intervention. China did not believe in the use of force or sanctions to resolve political disputes.

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NATO-Pakistan at low ebb

NATO-Pakistan relations at low ebb

1 June 2012

Relations between NATO and Pakistan have been rocky for some time, mainly over the war in Afghanistan. As NATO’s leader, Washington alleges that Pakistan could do much more to support the US in ‘the war on terror’ both domestically and in the region. 

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China, Japan and Korea agree to start FTA talks

China, Japan and Korea agree to start FTA talks

14 May 2012

At their fifth trilateral summit in Beijing on 13 May the leaders of China, Japan and Korea agreed to start preliminary negotiations on a free trade agreement. The leaders also signed a ‘milestone’ trilateral investment agreement and agreed to step up cooperation on regional security issues.

Trade between the three East Asian giants has been booming - up from $130bn in 1999 to $690 bn in 2011. China is now the biggest trading partner of both Japan and Korea.

China’s prime minister Wen Jiabao said that the investment agreement was the first legal document on trilateral cooperation in the economic field.  He also said  ‘the global economy is recovering slowly while the European debt crisis is not over. The establishment of a free-trade pact will unleash the economic vitality of the region and give a massive boost to economic integration in East Asia. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said economic co-operation was essential to maintaining the Asia-Pacific region as the growth centre of the world economy.

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Ashton opens EU office in Myanmar

Ashton opens EU office in Myanmar

30 April 2012

During her visit to Myanmar on 28 April Catherine Ashton opened a new EU office headed by Andreas List, an Austrian EU official and expert on the country. At the opening ceremony, attended by Aung San Suu Kyi and the Chief Minister of Yangon Region U Myint Swe, Ashton said that the office demonstrated the EU’s commitment to supporting the reform process in Myanmar. She said that the EU would be ‘a friend and supporter’ of change and promised EU aid for improving the situation of people in urban and rural areas. Ashton also called for an end to the ethnic conflict in Kachin and said this would be a key message when she met President Thein Sein on 30 April. 

Ashton’s visit coincided with that by German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, and followed similar visits by the UK, French and other EU ministers. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was also in town to meet Myanmar’s leaders and address the Burmese parliament.

Media reports suggest that the dispute between Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party and the government about taking a swearing-in oath which requires new MPs to pledge to safeguard the constitution has been resolved.

 

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EU-ASEAN Ministerial

EU-ASEAN Ministerial

27 April 2012

The smiles said it all. Catherine Ashton, EU and ASEAN foreign ministers looked very relaxed as they posed for the family photo after the EU-ASEAN ministerial in Brunei on 27 April. Both sides agreed to open ‘a new chapter’ in their relations after years of dispute over how to deal with Myanmar. ASEAN welcomed the EU’s decision to suspend sanctions and stated that ASEAN-EU relations have ‘matured and diversified.’ Straight after the Brunei meeting Ashton flew to pay her first visit to Myanmar and open an EU office in Yangon. 

ASEAN leaders had often criticised the EU for not showing up in force. This time the EU did send a top team including British Foreign Minister William Hague and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Perhaps this helped the EU in securing an agreement from the ASEAN side to support the EU’s early accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia which is a prerequisite for the EU to become a member of the East Asian summit.

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