EU and Asean seek stronger partnership
By Danial Norjidi

MADRID (dpa) - The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Wednesday pledged to upgrade their cooperation in order to support each other's integration efforts and to recover from the global crisis.

"We are both evolving very quickly," HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah said as foreign ministers from the two blocs marked the 30th anniversary of their official relations at a Madrid meeting.

"Europe and Southeast Asia need each other maybe more than ever before," HRH said.

HRH was referring to the two blocs' reforms to step up regional integration - the EU's Lisbon Treaty and the new Asean charter - and the economic crisis.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos - whose country holds the rotating EU presidency - called on Asean to help the EU dismantle trade barriers, boost investments and reform the global financial system.

The meeting was bringing together foreign ministers from seven of the 10 Asean countries, with Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia sending lower-level representatives.

Ministers from about 10 of the 27 EU countries were also attending, as well as EU foreign policy director Catherine Ashton.

The agenda of the meeting included this year's elections in Myanmar, the date of which has not yet been set.

The EU is hoping to send a mission to Myanmar to discuss the poll, a Spanish senior diplomat said, explaining that the EU would even be willing to send observers to the elections if they respected democratic standards.

Ashton was expected to stress to Myanmar the need to allow the opposition to contest the elections and to free political prisoners, including opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the source explained.

The EU would maintain sanctions against Myanmar while stepping up a dialogue with the regime, because "purely and simply isolating" the country had brought "very few results", the source said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle commented on the rising tension between South and North Korea, describing the March sinking of a South Korean warship as an "aggressive military act that cannot be justified in any way".

"Of course South Korea has our solidarity," the minister said, calling for an "appropriate and well thought-out" reaction from the international community.

The political turmoil in Thailand was not officially on the agenda, because it was considered an internal Thai matter. However, Bangkok was expected to inform the EU about the situation in the country.

The ministers were due to discuss a large number of issues, among them climate change, terrorism, piracy, nuclear non-proliferation, natural disasters, and EU and Asean relations with China.

Asean and the EU are each other's third-largest trade partners, according to figures given by Moratinos. - Borneo Bulletin (27th May 2010)