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Joint work on security the biggest growth area for Europe-Asia cooperation
EUROPE and Asia have never been so close. Our economies are interconnected; our cultures are interconnected; and our security is connected - we face the same challenges, we confront similar threats, and we share an interest in preserving peace in our regions and international cooperation on a global scale. We will be discussing this further at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this weekend.
On Monday, the foreign ministers of the European Union's 28 member states have decided that we must enhance our security engagement in Asia and with Asia, as part of a more comprehensive EU-Asia strategy. The time when Europeans and Asians could consider themselves distant friends is over. To preserve and strengthen our economic exchanges we must also work together on global security.
In Asia, as elsewhere, the economic face of Europe is the one that people are most familiar with. It is linked to our role as the world's biggest trading bloc, the fact that we are the number one or two investor in most Asian countries, and that we are by far the world's biggest donor of development assistance.
But it is striking how joint work on security has become the biggest area of growth in terms of our expanding cooperation with Asian partners. This increased engagement on security matters reflects two changes.
Firstly, our partners in Asia increasingly look to the EU to be present and engaged in the region. Our added value stems from, in particular, our experience with cooperative security and regional approaches to crisis management. This kind of expertise is in high demand. Secondly, the EU itself has taken ambitious steps to strengthen our own capacities in the field of defence. We are not only a reliable trade partner, not only a pillar of multilateralism - the EU is a security actor in its own right.
The EU currently has 16 civilian and military missions around the world. We train the armed forces in Mali; we advise the Ukrainian and the Iraqi authorities on reform of their civilian security sectors; we fight piracy in the Indian Ocean. Recently, together with EU member states, we have launched a "Permanent Structured Cooperation" on security and defence; we are joining forces to become an even more credible and reliable security provider.
Our member states have committed to investing together on practical projects - from rapid response against cyber attacks and innovative systems for maritime security to a European training centre for our troops who intervene in case of natural disasters. I have also proposed to set up a new fund, outside the EU budget, to help strengthen our partners' security capabilities.
Collectively, the EU and its member states have the second largest defence budget in the world; the potential of greater European cooperation on defence matters is immense. We have taken big, important steps over the past year, reflecting the fact that European citizens as well as people across the world increasingly count on a European Union that protects. This will continue.
Since our first engagement to accompany the Aceh peace process in Indonesia, almost 15 years ago, we have expanded our security cooperation in Asia and with Asia to a great extent. We are working together on cyber security, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, as well as in support of peace processes across the region, from Afghanistan to Mindanao to Myanmar.
We have had concrete contributions from several Asian partners to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia. In the context of the Asean Regional Forum, we are working together with Vietnam and Australia on maritime security. We also have increasing military contacts with countries in Asia, for example the chief of the EU Military Committee has had discussions with his counterparts in Beijing, Islamabad and Seoul, to name only a few. We have posted security specialists to several EU embassies across Asia.
Perhaps the most pressing matter for EU-Asia security cooperation at this time, however, is denuclearisation. We share an interest to save the Iran nuclear deal and to support denuclearisation talks in the Korean Peninsula.
This is why the European Union is already fully engaged with Asian partners on both of these pressing issues. China is a signatory of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, while it is also key to global efforts to bring about the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Likewise, Japan, South Korea and others all have a major stake in making sure that the nuclear deal with Iran is preserved and the Korean Peninsula is denuclearised. We all do. Global peace requires a global effort.
As the EU foreign ministers emphasised on Monday, we need to move to new actions. The EU will expand its cooperation with Asian partners into areas such as capacity building, training programmes - including UN peacekeeping - and joint exercises.
As the European Union, we have realised - after centuries of conflicts that ripped our continent apart - that cooperation is essential for peace, and that peace brings prosperity.
But in today's world, too often unilateral instincts prevail over the search for common ground. Too many players seek confrontation to achieve their short-term goals, instead of building sustainable solutions through mediation.
Against this background, those who believe in a multilateral global order have an interest and a duty to join forces. Europe and Asia, together, can be the engine of a more cooperative approach to world politics.
- The writer is the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the European Commission