The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union (EU) agreed to develop their ties into a strategic partnership at their 20th Ministerial Meeting in Belgium on July 22-23, co-hosted by Vietnam and the EU for the first time.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and EU Commissar for Foreign and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton co-chaired the event.

To realise the vision, both sides will increase political-security dialogues and consultations at regional and global forums in order to further promote their voice, role and contributions to peace, stability and development in the region and the world.

On the economic front, they will lift two-way trade by boosting aviation, navigation and road connectivity, as well as resume negotiations for their free trade agreement beyond 2015.

In the meantime, ministerial-level economic consultations will become more regular while the 2013-2014 Action Plan on Trade and Investment will be brought to its best efficiency.

ASEAN suggested the EU popularise its potential of trade and investment among EU member nations.

About the building of an integrated ASEAN Community, the EU pledged assistance to the process via its experience. The union has established a cooperation mechanism with ASEAN in connecting its members through the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.

The EU will double its development assistance to ASEAN to 170 million EUR for 2014-2020, much higher than 70 million EUR for 2007-2013. They will focus on effectively realising the Plan of Action to Implement Nuremberg Declaration on an Enhanced ASEAN-EU Partnership in 2013-3017.

Discussing issues of shared interest, ministers expressed their deep concern over the current complicated tension in the East Sea and stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region as well as promoting security, maritime and aviation safety and freedom, and trade in the sea.

Parties concerned were urged to exercise restraint, avoid use of or threat to use force so as to peacefully settle disputes in line with international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

They were also asked to fully and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Se (DOC) towards the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).

As regards to the MH17 plane crash, ASEAN and EU issued a joint statement asking for a full investigation and bringing offenders to the light.

In his opening speech, Deputy PM Minh said ASEAN welcomes the EU’s joining of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and its assistance for the bloc in building the Community by 2015.

To bring bilateral ties forward, he urged ASEAN and the EU to deal with existing challenges to build trust and ensure peace and stability in the region.

He praised the EU for issuing its Declaration on the East Sea, which expressed its deep concern over the recent developments threatening security, safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea after China illegally placed its oil rig in Vietnam’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

Minh suggested ASEAN and the EU promote their voice and role in highlighting principles on peacefully settling disputes, exercise restraint, avoid the use or threat to use force, seriously comply with international law and the 1982 UNCLOS as well as fully and effectively implementing the DOC.

The meeting also spoke highly of Vietnam’s role as a coordinator for the ASEAN-EU relations since 2012.-VNA