In the past few years, the importance of the Indo-Pacific region in both economic and political terms has increased markedly. With its Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific, the German government is setting out the course of its future policy on the countries of the region.
More than half the world’s population lives in countries around the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The region now accounts for almost half of global gross domestic product (GDP) and is gaining in economic and political importance.
In recent decades, countries like Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam have seen rapid economic growth: At the same time, the strategic competition in the region is increasing. The Indo-Pacific is becoming key to shaping the international order in the 21st century.
ASEAN lies at the very center of the region. Its relations to both Germany and the European Union are growing ever closer. Hopefully, we will be able to form a strategic partnership by the end of 2020.
Shifting geopolitical power structures in the Indo-Pacific have a direct impact on Germany and the EU at large: Our economies are closely connected through global supply chains. Major trading routes pass through the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific. If conflicts in the region arose, it would have immediate repercussions for us in Europe and Germany.
Open markets and free trade are crucial for Germany as a trading nation. The share of the broader region, including South and East Asia, in Germany’s trade balance has risen steadily in recent decades and now amounts to over 20 percent of our total trade in goods, or just under 420 billion euro (2019).
But rapid economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region also brings about rising greenhouse gas emissions as a challenge for the global climate and our planet’s ecosystem. In the interest of future generations, our goal must be to ensure environmentally friendly and socially compatible growth in the Indo-Pacific region.
These are only a few of the reasons why the German government has decided to open a new chapter of cooperation with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region and with ASEAN in particular. Our fresh Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region have been largely inspired by the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP). We share the same view on the region as a space for inclusive cooperation and engagement, and not containment. Germany and the ASEAN member states form relations based on partnership and common interests. This is all the more the case for the European Union, which is why it is high time that the EU and ASEAN become full-fledged strategic partners.
Not only during the COVID-19 pandemic has it become obvious that multilateralism has become more important than ever before. Stronger political, economic and security policy networks lead to a reduction of unilateral dependencies and preserve both sovereignty and our ability to act, in short, a “free and active foreign policy”.
Germany and the EU are — as is ASEAN — committed to the further integration of the IndoPacific region into multilateral organizations and forums like the G20 and to the promotion of regional multilateral structures in the spirit of true partnership and a level playing field. Multilateral agreements are the most effective way to make progress in climate and environmental protection, rules-based trade, disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation, as well as in the protection of human rights.
In the coming years, Germany will strategically position itself and step up its engagement vis-à-vis ASEAN. To this end, we will expand our cooperation with ASEAN institutions and continue to support the ASEAN Secretariat. As member of the European Union and current presidency of the Council of the European Union, Germany will strengthen the role of the EU as a partner of ASEAN in close cooperation with its EU partners.
To this end, we will spare no effort to fill a new Strategic Partnership between ASEAN and the EU with life and substance, including a more substantial contribution to security and stability. As a matter of principle, we are committed to protecting and safeguarding the rules-based order in the IndoPacific region.
This is in particular true for supporting a substantive and legally binding Code of Conduct between China and the ASEAN member states for the South China Sea, based on the principles of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas, monitoring UN sanctions against North Korea and offering our assistance in the mediation of regional conflicts with humanitarian implications.
To tackle the common challenge for the world’s climate, we intend to step up our cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific region in all aspects of climate policy, from adaptation to climate change, the protection of biodiversity and the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
We will look for collaboration — and offer our assistance — to substantially reduce emissions in line with overall efforts of the European Union to achieve climate commitments with partners in the region that go beyond the current obligations. We will also increase bilateral and regional cooperation to reduce marine litter and protect marine ecosystems. Last but not least, we are committed to expanding our projects on low-emission and sustainable palm oil development with relevant producer countries, with an emphasis on supporting smallholders.
And as the region’s share in Germany’s and the EU’s trading balance is steadily growing, we emphasize again the importance of a coherent network of free and comprehensive trade agreements in addition to a comprehensive EU/ASEAN agreement. Through these agreements we will be able to eliminate existing obstacles to trade and investment on both sides as well as agree on important environmental and social standards, climate protection and competition policy, subsidies and the protection of intellectual property. The lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be to “deglobalize” our supply chains and trade relations, but rather to diversify them and make them more resilient.
We hope that, by opening this new chapter of our cooperation with the region, we will be able to contribute to a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN as a central player. The Indo-Pacific region is important to us! Not only as Germans, but as Europeans.
German ambassador to Indonesia, ASEAN and Timor Leste
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.