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Mogherini at ARF 2

Mogherini attends ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)

4 September 2015

 Mogherini continued her hectic travel schedule well into the summer break by attending her first ministerial meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Kuala Lumpur in August. Her visit was well received and follows up on the Joint Communication "The EU and ASEAN: A partnership with a strategic purpose" and the corresponding Council conclusions from June 2015 which agreed a further strengthening of EU-ASEAN relations. Mogerhini was also able to build on her Shangri-La speech in June when she outlined the EU’s comprehensive approach to security questions. Pursuing this aim, the EU presents itself as a unique partner for ASEAN offering a variety of tools to assist ASEAN with its ambitious programme of regional integration. Mogherini's participation in the ARF reinforced the EU’s commitment to EU-ASEAN relations, a message further reinforced by the recent appointment of the first dedicated ambassador to ASEAN, Francisco Fontan Pardo.

Not unexpectedly, the ARF Ministerial meeting was dominated by the topic of the South China Sea. Mogherini reiterated the EU position of not taking sides on the overlapping sovereignty issues, and emphasising the importance of resolving the disputes peacefully. She further encouraged ASEAN and China to accelerate their work on a potentially binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. With ASEAN traditionally being divided in attitudes towards China, negotiations on the Chairman's statement took longer than expected, but resulted in relatively clear and outspoken language regarding the situation in the South China Sea.

Mogherini was able to brief her colleagues on a range of issues including the successful Iran deal, the situation in Ukraine, the Korean Peninsula, and the sensitive issues of migration and counter-terrorism. The ARF also provided a good opportunity for no less than ten bilaterals with Asian partners as well as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.

It was important that Mogherini made the trip to Kuala Lumpur to demonstrate the continuing involvement and interest of the EU at the highest levels in Asian affairs. The ARF is the most important security-related fora that the EU has access to in Asia. The EU remains determined to join the more exclusive East Asia Summit, although at present there is no consensus on EU membership and the internal review on the occasion of the East Asia Summit’s 10th anniversary in November 2015 is not expected to bear positive news for the EU. But if the EU is serious about being more than the most prominent trade partner for ASEAN, showing up and contributing at Asian meetings is essential to demonstrate the EU’s on-going commitment and willingness to establish a meaningful strategic partnership. Mogherini seems to understand that the EU has to be there for the long-haul.