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Mogherini attends ARF in Manila

9 August 2017

EU High Rep, Federica Mogherini, boosted the EU’s presence in Asia with her attendance this week at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) annual meeting in Manila. The ARF brings together the ten ASEAN countries, the EU and countries such as Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.

Mogherini also co-chaired the annual EU-ASEAN ministerial conference, which this year marks 40 years of partnership between the two blocs (see below). She met with the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, and with the Foreign Minister of the Philippines, Alan Cayetano. She thanked the Foreign Minister for the good cooperation with the EU under his country's chairmanship of ASEAN. The two discussed bilateral relations related to human rights, trade, development cooperation, and the final ratification of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.


The EU can also thank the Philippines for being invited as guest of the chair to the East Asia Summit (EAS) in early November for the first time. The EU has lobbied long and hard to attend the EAS and President Tusk will attend on behalf of the EU. The EAS involves most global powers including the US, China, Russia, Japan and India. There is little doubt that the landmark EU-Japan deal announced on the eve of the G20 summit contributed to the rise in the EU’s standing in Asia.

At the ARF meeting, foreign ministers celebrated the 50th anniversary of ASEAN before turning to some of the tricky hotspots. Top of the list was North Korea and how to bring pressure to bear on the rogue state determined to build a nuclear arsenal. The ARF meeting coincided with a very tough UNSC resolution further tightening sanctions on the DPRK to include a ban on coal, iron, lead and seafood exports – worth around one billion dollars a year. Countries can no longer receive North Korean workers. There are to be no new joint ventures with the DPRK or new investment in existing ones. More individuals are targeted with travel bans and asset freezes. And member states are to report to the UN Security Council within 90 days on how they have implemented resolution. Oil imports and air travel were excluded. The Chinese foreign minister told his DPRK counterpart that the situation was now at ‘crisis point’ and the DPRK had to comply with the UN’s demands. Typically Pyongyang rejected the latest sanctions as a US provocation and infringement on its sovereignty. It vowed a ‘thousands-fold’ revenge on the US.


The foreign ministers of ASEAN and China endorsed the framework for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC). While the framework is a step forward in the conflict management process for the SCS, it is short on details and contains many of the same principles and provisions contained in the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which has yet to be even partially implemented. The text includes a new reference to the prevention and management of incidents, as well as a seemingly stronger commitment to maritime security and freedom of navigation. However, the phrase “legally binding” is absent, as are the geographical scope of the agreement and enforcement and arbitration mechanisms. The framework will form the basis for further negotiations on the COC. Those discussions are likely to be lengthy and frustrating for those ASEAN members who had hoped to see a legally binding, comprehensive and effective COC.


Climate change was less controversial with the ARF supporting the Paris agreements.


The EU was set on a collision course with other ARF members on measures to combat drug trafficking but at the last minute there was a compromise agreement.


Illegal fishing was also a major agenda item with many pointing fingers at the Chinese.


As usual there were several bilateral meetings on the margins of the ARF. The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts as did the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers. They discussed the border issue between their two countries without reaching any agreement.

Mogherini also had a number of bilateral meetings, including with Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister of Australia, to sign the EU-Australia Framework Agreement. She also met with the Chinese, Russian, US, Korean, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese and Singapore foreign ministers.

With the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Retno Marsudi, she discussed the positive trend in bilateral relations and foreign policy priorities, including the situation in Myanmar, in particular concerning the Rohingya and the Middle East Peace Process.

With the Foreign Minister of Thailand, Don Pramudwinai, the two reflected on further development of the EU-Thailand bilateral relationship.

With Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Vietnam Mogherini emphasised that the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement would put the bilateral relations on a more strategic footing. She requested Vietnam to be more attentive to the treatment of human rights defenders.

In her meeting with the Foreign Minister of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan, Mogherini reiterated EU’s commitment to continue working closely together during Singapore's chairmanship of ASEAN in 2018 and advancing the bilateral agenda.

In the joint statement commemorating the 40th anniversary of their relationship, the EU and ASEAN welcomed the important role that regional integration had played in strengthening prosperity, peace and security. There was great strength and resilience in the ASEAN-EU partnership as the two organizations shared many values and combined account for some 18 percent of the world's population and 26 percent of the world's GDP. The ultimate goal of a strategic partnership was reaffirmed and a new action plan for 2018-22 was adopted. There was also a renewed commitment to a region to region FTA and the negotiations on a Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement. Both sides also reaffirmed their strong commitment to the full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement.

On maritime security and safety, there was support for freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with UNCLOS. Both underscored the need for the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and supported the efforts of ASEAN Member States and China to work towards the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the SCS.