Illustrative image (Source: AFP/VNA)
Bangkok (VNA) – It is a high time to bring ASEAN-EU dialogue relations to strategic level and deepen bilateral cooperation in important fields, Vietnam’s representative said at the 21st ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting (AEMM-21), which opened in Bangkok, Thailand, on October 14.

Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung, who led the Vietnamese delegation to the event, said the two sides should give priority to boosting partnership in economics-trade, connectivity and response to security challenges, both traditional and non-traditional, in the region.

He asked the EU to continue supporting ASEAN to build the ASEAN Community and uphold its central role in the region while implementing the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) on narrowing the development gap among members and developing the Mekong Subregion (GMS), particularly regarding food and water security.

As regards the East Sea issue, the diplomat expressed his deep concern over the complicated developments and reiterated the common stand of ASEAN in the field.

He spoke highly of the EU’s viewpoints and asked the union to continue supporting efforts to maintain peace and stability in the East Sea while advocating the settlement of any dispute via peaceful means on the basis of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), with respect for diplomatic and legal procedures and the exercise of self-restraint without use of or threat to use forces whilst implementing fully and effectively the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and working toward finalising a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) as soon as possible.

At the conference, ASEAN and EU foreign ministers welcomed the progress in bilateral ties gained since the AEMM-20 in Brussels, Belgium, in 2014, particularly the implementation of the Plan of Action in 2013-2017 to realise the Nuremberg Declaration on an EU-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership.

The two sides agreed to strive towards elevating the bilateral relations to strategic partnership and adopted the Bangkok statement on promoting ASEAN-EU global partnership for common strategic goals, which set out orientations, frameworks and solutions to enhance bilateral cooperation in significant fields.

Regarding policies and security, they agreed to strengthen collaboration to maintain peace and security in the region and at sea, advocate the observance of international law, and deal with non-traditional security challenges, especially terrorism, cross-border crime, cyber security, maritime security, climate change and natural disasters management.

On the economic front, the two sides agreed to kick-start negotiations on an ASEAN-EU free trade area, enhance connectivity via air and sea routes, and develop small-and medium-sized enterprises.

Pertaining to culture and society, ASEAN and EU will increase people-to-people exchanges and cooperation on tourism, education-training, and science-technology.

The EU pledged to work closer with ASEAN in sustainable development and continue supporting ASEAN to build the community.

The uion also expressed its wish to participate in some regional mechanisms which ASEAN takes a leading role.

Ministers also discussed regional and international issues of mutual concerns, including the East Sea issue. They again stressed the need to maintain peace, stability, safety, security, and freedom of aviation and navigation while calling on the involved parties to exercise self-restraint, refrain from the use of or threat to use forces and address disputes peacefully based on international law, speficially the 1982 UNCLOS.

They declared support for ASEAN and China’s efforts to implement effectively the DOC and soon reach the COC.

On the sidelines of the conference, Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung had bilateral meetings with heads of ASEAN delegations, the foreign ministers of Finland, the Netherlands, and Latvia, and deputy foreign ministers of Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Greece, and Austria.

The meetings focused on measures to enhance relations between Vietnam and the countries, especially in economics, trade, investment, sustainable development, climate change, tourism and people-to-people exchanges.

Deputy FM Dung also proposed the countries actively persuade the EU to soon sign and ratify the Vietnam-EU Free Trade Agreement and recognise Vietnam’s market economy status.

Currently, EU is the third biggest trade partner and the biggest foreign investor of ASEAN. Bilateral trade reached 228.2 billion USD in 2015, making up 10 percent of the bloc’s total trade. EU also injected 19.6 billion USD in ASEAN, accounting for 16.3 percent of total foreign investment in the bloc.-VNA