Speech by Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, before the Ambassadors of the ASEAN countries in Paris (Paris, 28 September 2016) [fr]
Dear Philippe Varin, Special Representative for economic relations with the ASEAN countries,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to welcome you to the Quai d’Orsay, a few weeks after the State visit to Vietnam by the French President and two weeks ahead of the ministerial meeting between the European Union and ASEAN in Bangkok.
And I would like to begin by saying a few words about Europe.
Of course, although the ASEAN countries are far from Europe, you are keen observers of what happens here, because relations between Europe and ASEAN are essential and because all the events of recent months in Europe have caught your attention. The decision by the British people to withdraw from the European project through “Brexit” does, indeed, require collective reflection. What I would like to say is that I am firmly convinced that the EU will come out of this stronger than ever.
It may appear surprising that I say that. There were fears of contagion after the British vote, but that is not what happened. Rather, awareness grew that there was a risk for the future. The informal summit in Bratislava of the European leaders – 27 and not 28, for the first time – enabled the adoption of a roadmap to restore the European project’s impetus on essential matters. It is important for Europe to focus on these essential issues, which are of interest to our citizens. First and foremost, the issues of migration, security and the economy.
The crises we have faced in recent years have been overcome. That will also be the case for Brexit. We are determined that the 27-member EU will be stronger than the 28-member one minus one, and that it shall remain therefore, for ASEAN, a strategic, committed partner.
Of course, the path that ASEAN has followed is not exactly the same one as that of the European Union. However, I am deeply convinced that our respective experiences of regional integration are a solid basis for strengthening our partnership, in all areas. The Bangkok ministerial meeting should also prepare the upgrading of the EU-ASEAN partnership to strategic level.
As regards relations between France and South-East Asia, we are bound by a very long history with chapters of great density, including the darkest hours of colonization. France is now a very committed partner in the relationship with your countries and the development of your region. In 2007, France was the first European country to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.
To illustrate this impetus, please allow me to speak on a more personal note: I, myself, as Prime Minister, visited Singapore, the Philippines (in the first visit by a French Prime Minister), Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia, before making a visit to Burma in June this year, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development. And as the fact that I spent my first holidays after resigning as Prime Minister in 2014 in Vietnam is well-known – despite my best efforts – I can mention that!
It is in this context of close relations and mutual confidence that I would like to sketch out the strengthening of ties between Europe and France on the one hand and South-East Asia on the other.
Firstly, in political terms.
We are bound by global challenges that require close dialogue.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, France has particular responsibilities as regards maintaining international peace and security. I welcome the excellent cooperation we have had with Malaysia within the Council for almost two years now.
Terrorism is a key challenge that affects us all, and has struck in both France and South-East Asia in the last few months. Although Daesh is losing ground in the Middle East thanks to the efforts of the international coalition, the terrorist organization is growing elsewhere, including in your region. Hundreds of South-East Asian citizens are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq. We need to continue working together, in accordance with international law, to combat radicalization and all trafficking that fuels terrorist groups. Your region is home to a very large Muslim population, with a particularly rich history and civilization and a centuries-long tradition of tolerance and co-existence. We can work together further to protect Islam from those who claim allegiance to it with the aim of spreading terror. Together, we need to show that there is no war of civilizations. On the contrary, our time offers the opportunity of mutual enrichment and dialogue without precedent in humanity’s history.
Next, there is the challenge of regional security. In the South China Sea, we all need a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes and to maintain the freedom of navigation and overflight, in accordance with international law. This is a major transit route, including on the way to Europe. The French Navy regularly sails in this area and will continue to do so – it is also a strategic passage towards our Pacific territories. We will therefore continue to provide our full support to the negotiations between China and ASEAN to draw up a code of conduct.
Given its geography, South-East Asia is particularly exposed to climate change. In February 2015, the joint launch, during the French President’s visit to the Philippines, of the “Manila Call to Action on Climate Change” helped mobilize the international community ahead of COP21. We also appreciated the role played by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Mr Balakrishnan, who was one of the 14 facilitators during the Paris Climate Conference. It is now up to us to implement the Paris Agreement as quickly as possible. I would like to thank Brunei, Laos, Singapore and Thailand, which have ratified it this month. I strongly encourage the other ASEAN countries to follow their example.
Above and beyond these global challenges, we need shared political objectives built on common values.
It is on the basis of our shared cultural and intellectual heritage that France promotes shared principles and interests in Asia: respect for human rights, including the right to a fair trial, and fundamental freedoms, as well as freedom of expression and democracy. Along with the EU, we promote the universal abolition of the death penalty, in all places and in all circumstances. This commitment sometimes brings us to speak out to emphasize our hopes for progress in some of your countries – and I have in mind, for example, our hope to see Thailand return to a constitutional, democratic order soon. Please take these statements not as a tendency to lecture, but rather as the sign for our particular interest, on behalf of France and Europe, in the fate of peoples and the universality of the principles set down in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in Paris in 1948. The ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, adopted in Phnom Penh in 2012 by your region’s leaders, is part of this international framework.
In this context, I welcome the democratic transition process we are currently seeing in Burma. During my visit in June, I stressed that France will stand beside democratically elected Burmese authorities to support the country on its path to peace, democracy and development.
I will now move on to our economic relations.
I would like to begin by renewing my congratulations for the creation of the “ASEAN Economic Community” on 31 December 2015. This is a fundamental step forward towards enhancing the economic, financial and regulatory integration of ASEAN. This development will consolidate South-East Asia’s attractiveness, as Asia’s third-largest economy with an average growth rate of 5% over the last three decades. This new Community will also help contribute to the development of trade between the European Union, the world’s largest trading power, and ASEAN.
In this respect, France supports the negotiations for Free Trade Agreements (FTA) initiated by the EU and several ASEAN countries. A text has already been approved with Singapore and Vietnam. Negotiations are underway with Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Discussions have also begun with Burma on an investment protection agreement.
We want to further enhance the momentum of our bilateral trade, which totalled almost €30 billion in 2015. The agri-food, health and sustainable cities sectors are particularly promising.
Your region is receiving increasing investment. The recent purchase of the Singaporean maritime freight company “Neptune Orient Lines” by the French shipping company CMA-CGM demonstrates France’s participation in these investments.
We also need to continue working to increase investment in France from ASEAN countries, which remains too limited. The economic reforms carried out by the French government since 2012 will foster this development, and I sketched out their main thrusts in Singapore in 2012.
I would like to thank Mr Philippe Varin, who has worked efficiently for more than two years now alongside all players in France’s foreign trade in order to strengthen these economic exchanges.
Lastly, we need to further strengthen our exchanges in the areas of development, academic and scientific relations, and culture.
The Agence française de développement (AFD, French Development Agency) has long worked in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It has gradually widened the reach of its activities to Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most recently, Burma. Between 2010 and 2015, we thus funded almost 100 projects in the ASEAN region, totalling €2.2 billion, supporting sustainable development and the fight against climate change.
Academic and scientific exchanges are another pillar of our relations. To mention just one example, as the French President just returned from Vietnam, the Franco-Vietnamese Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST) should provide Vietnam with the managers and engineers required for the development of an economy built on knowledge and innovation. I could cite examples in every ASEAN country.
To foster these exchanges, we would like to receive more students from South-East Asia in France. There are currently slightly more than 10,000 of them, but there could be many more, as close to 400,000 pupils and students are currently learning French in your region. We would also like to spur on further the development of francophonie, including through language training with a greater focus on the world of work.
Lastly, culture is another major component of our cooperation. In close coordination with its local government bodies, France carries out cooperation in the area of heritage protection, such as in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and, now, in Burma. We also need to bring life to our ties through vibrant cultural programming, with a focus on the future and on benefitting the widest public possible in our societies.
Those are the main, broad guidelines whose development I propose to pursue together. I am counting on your contribution. ASEAN is a genuine sister organization for the European Union. In this close friendship, we need to further strengthen our cooperation, as part of a family that counts more than a billion inhabitants when they get together!