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Faced with the twin challenges of an increasingly isolationist US and a more globalist China, participants at the 26 February Friends of Europe dinner debate “EU-ASEAN relations: separating fact from fiction” agreed on the need to step up EU-ASEAN trade and investment, and, more importantly, to join forces to defend the rules-based global order and institutions, including the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.
But first, participants agreed, the two regional organisations will need to be honest and frank in acknowledging their fundamental differences, recognising misperceptions of each other – and then seeking to overcome them.
The debate, held under Chatham House rules, shed light on an organisational contrast, with the European Union often overestimating the level of integration among Southeast Asian nations, and ASEAN sometimes underestimating the more unified way in which the EU operates.
Both ASEAN and the EU are faced with myriad of domestic and regional challenges. The challenging human rights situation in several ASEAN countries is complicating relations with the EU, while in Europe, a multitude of crises, including Brexit, populism and migration, remains a source of deep concern.
Despite these challenges, both sides agreed that there is room to collaborate, not just on trade, but on security, climate change, science and technology, and to launch policy dialogues in sectors including fisheries, water management, social policy and public transport.