‘We made a mistake with Russia’: EU chief in Asia trade mission

‘We made a mistake with Russia’: EU chief in Asia trade mission

July 31, 2023

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London: The ascension of Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos jnr to the presidency of the Philippines has been a game-changer in attracting European investment and pledges to boost security ties, European officials have revealed.

In her first visit to the Philippines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to restart negotiations on a trade deal amid concerns about China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea.

She also pledged to boost the Asian nation’s ability to process its critical minerals and increase data-sharing through satellites and undersea cables.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos jnr with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila.Credit: AP

Von der Leyen’s visit came as Italy’s Defence Minister Guido Crosetto branded the former Italian government’s decision to join China’s Belt and Road project “an improvised and atrocious act” in an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Speaking in Manila, Von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive arm, declared that security in the Indo-Pacific was indivisible from security in Europe, where Ukraine is fighting Russia’s invasion. She did not mention China in her speech or press statement during her two-day visit.

The EU is also trying to strike trade deals with Australia and South America this year as part of Von der Leyen’s attempt to de-risk Europe’s critical supply lines from any single supplier.

Yet, the European Commission chief was also clear about the limits of trade, saying Europe had “made a mistake with Russia” by thinking that doing business would prevent conflict.

Von der Leyen said the use of force would not be tolerated in Europe or in the Indo-Pacific.

“Challenges to the rules-based order in our interconnected world affect all of us,” she said.

“This is why we are concerned about the rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific, because an Indo-Pacific free of the threats of coercion is key to all our stability, to our peace, and to the prosperity of our people.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos jnr walks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines.Credit: AP

“We could not choose our neighbours, but we can choose who to do business with, and on what terms,” she said. “We made a mistake with Russia.”

Von der Leyen has stepped up her visits to Asia, having travelled to South Korea, Japan and India on top of her Manila trip.

Speaking to reporters after the visit, a senior commission official said Brussels’ cooperation with Manila had been “significantly advanced due to the change of government,” noting the improvements on human rights in the Philippines.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte’s self-proclaimed war on drugs is estimated to have led to the deaths of 12,000 Filipinos, according to Human Rights Watch, which has called on Duterte to co-operate with an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has expressed hope that Von der Leyen could visit Australia, but asked by this masthead if this was imminent, the EU official said the focus was on securing a trade deal, with negotiations set to resume this month.

“We hope to conclude as quickly as possible, it’s in the strategic interests of both the EU and Australia, and I think the realisation at leaders’ level is there,” the official said.

“We need to make sure the teams on each side understand the bigger picture, and make sure that we find something mutually agreeable.”

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