EU Lends its Support to ASEAN Over South China Sea Disputes

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May 24 – Officials in the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have recently confirmed that senior officials from the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) met with officials from the European Union (EU) in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to discuss the issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Currently there are numerous overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, with the Philippines recently initiating arbitrary proceedings before the United Nations Convention to clarify the status of maritime zones in the area.

The DFA has released a statement noting that the EU supports “the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

ASEAN’s relationship with the EU is potentially one of the most important in the 21st century. The EU is the world’s largest singular trade entity, and the ASEAN Economic Community is rapidly developing and looking to complete all of its multilateral agreements by 2015 so it can begin operating as a single comprehensive economic unit.

After China, the EU is ASEAN’s second largest trading partner, and its trade with ASEAN accounts for roughly 11 percent of ASEAN’s total trade. Even more importantly, the EU is far and away the largest investor in ASEAN, investing over US$18 billion per year in the trading bloc’s countries from 2000-2009.

The EU is also negotiating numerous bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with various ASEAN countries – which include Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – and has already managed to finalize negotiations with Singapore for a FTA last December.

With numbers like these and further agreements under negotiation, the EU has a keen interest in seeing territorial disputes resolved in a peaceful manner by way of maintaining security in the South China Sea and providing a friendly atmosphere for commerce in the region.

With this in mind, the EU called for all “concerned parties to clarify their claims on the basis of UNCLOS.”

The issue also came up during the recent ASEAN Summit held in April, where leaders urged parties on both sides of the dispute to engage in talks to make certain that the disputes do not escalate into violence.