Twin EU Indo-Pacific and ASEAN Talks Highlight New Commitments
Plus new foreign interference scrutiny; Myanmar's coup anniversary responses; new free trade pact; electric vehicle policy framework development; Sino-Philippine vessel movement & much more.
Greetings to new readers and welcome all to the latest edition of the weekly ASEAN Wonk BulletBrief! If you haven’t already, you can upgrade to a paid subscription for $5 a month/$50 a year below to receive full posts and visit this page for more on pricing for institutions, groups as well as discounted categories.
To receive full ASEAN Wonk posts and support our work, consider a paid subscription for $5 a month/$50 a year through the button below. For more on pricing for institutions, groups and discounted categories, visit this page.
For this iteration of ASEAN Wonk BulletBrief, we are looking at:
Assessing the geopolitical significance of the European Union’s twin meets with ASEAN and Indo-Pacific countries and new commitments therein;
Mapping of regional developments including new foreign interference scrutiny in the headlines and actions amid Myanmar’s 3rd coup anniversary;
Charting evolving security, geopolitical and geoeconomic trends such as on ASEAN’s 2024 growth prospects; Mekong scam networks; tracking Sino-Philippine vessel movements and measuring Indo-Pacific firm financial anxiety;
Tracking and analysis of industry developments and quantitative indicators including a new free trade pact; an emerging electric vehicle policy framework; a big China regional e-commerce deal and more;
And much more! ICYMI, check out our analysis of the geopolitical and geoeconomic inroads and limitations in recent Philippines-Vietnam summit engagements;
WonkCount: 1,998 words (~9 minutes reading time)
Foreign Interference in the Headlines; Myanmar’s Coup Anniversary & More
ASEAN 2024 Growth Prospects; Behind Sprawling Mekong Scam Networks & Digitalization and Sustainable Development
“Many other economies continue to show resilience, with growth accelerating in…Southeast Asia’s major economies,” the International Monetary Fund (IMF) observed in its commentary accompanying the latest iteration of its World Economic Outlook. Specifically, the IMF projects the five major economies of ASEAN — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand — to grow at 4.7 percent, 0.2 percent up from the October 2023 estimate. This is amid a projected global growth rate of 3.1 percent (link).
Overview of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Projections for January 2024 on Emerging Market and Developing Economies
“Despite the overt illicit activities taking place in the zone, it continues to expand,” observes a photo essay by the International Crisis Group on the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone — a hub for sprawling Mekong scam networks — based on a visit that took place last year. The photo essay documents illicit activities that occur in plain sight, including displays of money laundering, forced labor and wildlife trafficking (link).
“The Digital Economy Framework Agreement is expected to be a significant initiative in multiple ways…its progress will provide an illuminating experience on evolution of an exhaustive digital connectivity framework,” notes a book recently published by the Asian Development Bank Institute in collaboration with the National University of Singapore and the Institute of South Asian Studies. The book touches on several areas including the role of MSMEs and digitalization in firm global value chain participation (link).
Sectoral Distribution of GVC Firms in the Asia and Pacific Region (By %)
Twin EU Indo-Pacific and ASEAN Talks Highlight New Commitments
What’s Behind It
Europe’s diplomacy with Southeast Asian states was in the spotlight as the European Union (EU) convened the EU-Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum and an EU-ASEAN Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium. The meetings took place as planned on February 2 and saw attempts to advance functional cooperation between the world’s two leading regional groupings, as EU officials highlighted ahead of talks1. ASEAN Wonk understands from sources familiar with the deliberations that differences on some geopolitical issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza conflict also continued to stand out in discussions. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi publicly reflected an example of this when she noted at the Indo-Pacific ministerial that while Europe was a “crucial partner” for ASEAN advancing its own ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, Jakarta hoped countries could apply the respect for international law evenly including to Palestine2. “Consistency between values and actions reflects the sincerity of our moral ground,” she noted. “It shows who we actually are.”3
Timeline Snapshot of Select Recent Developments in EU Relations with Southeast Asian States
The meetings put a focus on the state of ties amid efforts by the EU to up its regional presence. Regionally, EU-ASEAN relations were upgraded to a strategic partnership in 20204. This occurred as individual European countries were building out their own approaches to Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific to varying degrees. Both groupings then agreed in 2022 to a plan of action to advance that partnership out to 2027 and reached leader-level commitments during a commemorative summit in Brussels5. Apart from a past commitment to mobilize 10 billion euros for connectivity projects under its Global Gateway, the EU has also tried to make bilateral inroads with Southeast Asian countries in areas like digital, climate and trade (see above timeline for select recent examples)6.
Why It Matters
The EU utilized the meetings to attempt to advance tangible progress on cooperation with ASEAN despite challenges therein. In his remarks at the EU-ASEAN Ministerial, Josef Borell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, framed the engagement as proof of both sides “translating commitments to action” and forging common commitment while taking into account “different approaches to several questions.”7 These inroads did not make the headlines relative to storylines such as geopolitical differences or the uneven levels of diplomatic representation at the engagements. Nonetheless, they are important to note for those seeking to track the relationship out to the future as the two sides continue to work on next steps (see table below on some of these key sectoral areas, including new announcements made at the EU-ASEAN meet).