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Speech by State Secretary Stephan Steinlein at the Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business in Ho Chi Minh City: “Political Stability and Security in Asia-Pacific”

22.11.2014

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Parliamentary State Secretary Zypries,
Mr Lienhard,
Mr Ischinger,
Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first of all thank our Vietnamese partners and friends for their warm welcome and for the hospitality they have shown to us over the past days. We are delighted to be able to gather here in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the most vibrant cities in Asia!

In this context, may I also congratulate the APA for having chosen Viet Nam for the 14th Asia-Pacific Conference!

Viet Nam is a success story in South-East Asia and a country that has impressed us for decades with its steady and remarkable growth rates.

But it is also a country in a fast moving and very competitive environment, both economically and politically.

And therefore, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate that on today’s agenda we also have the opportunity to discuss “Political Stability and Security in Asia-Pacific”.

Under this heading I will touch upon a few issues, such as the security situation in the region today as well as the European Union’s and Germany’s policy approaches to the region.

I should like to start with some observations.

First: Not so long ago, the US and Europe were making the headlines with their handling of the financial and economic crisis. Literally at the same time, Asia impressed us with continuous growth rates of around 6 to 7%.

We all remember that when Asian countries went through their own financial crises in 1997/98, they wisely introduced reforms that left them well equipped to face future economic challenges.

Second: There are now six members from the Asia-Pacific in the G20, which just met in Brisbane/Australia for its annual Summit.

Just prior to that, the APEC Summit convened in Beijing and the ASEAN Summit took place in Myanmar – a country that has been undergoing a remarkable transition since 2011 and which is chairing the ASEAN Organisation for the first time.

This series of impressive Asia-Pacific meetings and the steady growth rates in the region do not show the full picture.

 My point here is: For apart from the ASEAN Charter and a few ASEAN-led treaties, the regional development of rules-based systems that provide a reliable framework for decision-makers do not seem to be growing at the same pace as Asia’s economies.

Such frameworks are, however, essential for continuous private investment and for sustainable growth.

The former Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd very aptly characterised the current developments in the Asia-Pacific in his speech to NATO in 2012.

He said: “…In Asia we face the prospect of the 21st century global economy resting on the shoulders of a 19th century set of security policy realities. …Security in the Asia-Pacific has not been underwritten by the same sorts of institutional mechanisms that have served the Euro-Atlantic so well in the post-war period…..”.

In addition, in the Asia-Pacific misperceptions and misunderstandings can arise easily, as the number of latent conflicts with a nuclear dimension has not diminished in recent years, nor have historical conflicts yet been resolved.

Thus a situation such as the one in the South China Sea bears constant conflict potential.

The US has been the most prominent security provider in the Asia-Pacific, forming bilateral security alliances, recently complemented by the US-led trade initiative of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

At the same time, this “pivot” or “rebalancing attempt” by the US creates a complex situation. While Asians welcome active US engagement, hardly anyone in Asia wants to have to choose between the US and China.

So the overall picture is a rather complex one. But as economic success depends heavily on stability, governments and political stakeholders have an important role to play and must act responsibly.

For example, an export-oriented economy like Germany has to be able to count on stable Asian growth regions and markets and freedom of navigation, as well as overall political stability in the Asia-Pacific.

The same is true of the EU, not least because overcoming the European debt crisis also involves identifying areas of growth, which in turn is partly dependent on markets outside the EU.

The EU’s and Germany’s approach to stability in Asia is twofold:

-      First: We aim to forge political, cultural and economic ties with the Asia-Pacific in such a way that it would be too costly for anyone to damage them.

-      And second: We strongly support all efforts of political and economic cooperation and integration in Asia-Pacific, like ASEAN for example. We need the countries in Asia-Pacific and their regional institutions.

We need them as partners and building blocks for a sustainable security and economic architecture in the 21st century.

That’s why we are intensifying our cooperation with Asian partners through bilateral government consultations at the highest level, e.g. with China and India.

That’s why we are strengthening bilateral strategic partnerships with key partners, such as Viet Nam, Indonesia and Australia as well as diversifying our diplomatic and cultural presence throughout the region.

And that’s why we are strongly supporting the institution building in Asia.

Strengthening ASEAN is in this regard one strategic aim of German and European foreign policy.

As you are aware – ASEAN is the main and most active motor of stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

We want to broaden and diversify our engagement in Asia-Pacific: In this context, we follow with great interest the development of the newly founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

What could be the German, the European role in setting up this new mechanism? How can we enter into a dialogue about sustainability, safeguards and standards – important cornerstones for any international finance mechanism in the field of development and infrastructure?

Beyond the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: What could be the German role in the context of other institutions of regional cooperation like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization? Or, to put it more generally: How can we develop a partnership between Europe and the different regional building blocks in Asia-Pacific to strengthen cooperation, to avoid confrontation and to build a sustainable political, security and economic architecture for the 21st century?    

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier delivered recently a programmatic speech at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta.

He pointed out that – given the current state of the world - many people felt as if this world was unravelling.

In fact, what we witness is that international orders are under pressure. Established orders are also coming under pressure here in Asia-Pacific. In a region that is developing so dynamically, the power equations are shifting. Tensions are arising over mineral deposits, fishing grounds and maritime areas such as the South and East China Sea.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier proposed a few, very concrete joint initiatives, placing ASEAN’s role as an anchor of stability at the heart of his approach, underlining an ever stronger EU-ASEAN relationship as a key to stability in Asia Pacific, with a focus on maritime security, combating piracy, disarmament and confidence-building.

I am aware that this is not an easy path. Looking to Europe these days, we have to recognize a big crisis of confidence in our own neighbourhood, in particular with regard to the Russia-EU relationship.

Against the background of the ongoing political and military upheaval in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, it seems as if the whole security architecture in Europe is put into question.

We are therefore not in a position to teach lessons to others. We are not in a position to boast saying: “Have a look at Europe, look how marvellously we have overcome all our conflicts, how peaceful our once war-ridden continent now is.”

The EU is a success story, no doubt. But the Ukraine crisis has shown that right now we are walking on thin ice. Our task now is to become creative again. We have, as you in Asia, to actively look into new ways of easing tensions, of defining common interests and rebuilding trust.

The German Government is investing all its energy to renew the dialogue with Russia, to keep the European Union and the West as a whole united and to help Ukraine in its process of internal reform and political consolidation.

In the short term, we have to get out of this vicious circle of mistrust and military escalation. In the longer run, we have to set up the framework for a renewed, resilient peace and security architecture in Europe.

And beyond! This will be one of the main challenges of the German OSCE presidency that we are preparing to take over in 2016.

And, Wolfgang Ischinger, this could perhaps be an interesting subject for the next Munich security conference: ASEAN and the OSCE are two regional organizations in a world full of risks and crisis. In what direction do we want to go? How can we learn from each other? And what are the mistakes to avoid?   

I would like to underline that our national approach – reaching out to core partners, supporting regional cooperation - goes hand in hand with the European Union’s Asia policy.

The European Union works in a similar way:

-      through its Political and Cooperation Agreements with countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Singapore, Malaysia and others;

-      and through Free Trade Agreements with Korea, and the ones we are working on with Singapore, Malaysia, Viet Nam - hopefully soon to be followed by Japan, Indonesia and other countries.

So some new noodles for the noodle bowl…

These comprehensive treaties are helping to strengthen a rules-based system in Asia-Pacific and enhancing the reliable legal framework for decision-makers in the public as well as the private sector.

Sustainable political and economic development would not be complete without sound cultural networks as well as vibrant civil societies, including a free, independent and professional media landscape.

To this end, the German Government is, for example, organising international dialogues and training programmes for Asian journalists, e.g. from Viet Nam and Myanmar.

Moreover, through bilateral education projects, such as the Vietnamese-German University here in Ho Chi Minh City, we are helping to create a highly qualified workforce. A workforce, which will also bring benefit to both the German and Vietnamese private sector.

In addition to this, we warmly welcome ASEAN regional cooperation in the area of education. The last ASEAN Five-Year Work Plan on Education (2011-2015) had rightly identified the promotion of cross-border mobility and the internationalisation of education as key priorities. Because it’s clear that higher education has gained more and more strategic relevance for the viability of national and regional economic systems.

We very much commend ASEAN’s goal to promote the convergence of higher education systems, to improve the mutual recognition of degrees and to intensify cooperation between universities in the region.

To come to my last point: let me underline why it should also be in Asia’s interests to have European partners playing a role in Asia and its security. Strong growth in Asia also means that Asian economies have to rely on foreign markets and investments.

Growth in Asia needs foreign investment and transfer of know-how – and foreign investors want to see a reliable legal and economic framework for sustainable engagement.

Asian nations may face social and economic challenges to their societies as their economic development continues. For example, Germany, with its social market economy, capacity for innovation, strong SME sector and specific education system, including the dual education, was in the end able to handle the recent economic crises better than expected.

Relevant factors for stability and security in a broader sense, for sustainable development and growth – in Asia as well as in Europe, are

-      strong civil societies and sound education systems,

-      a well-trained workforce,

-      reliable legal and social frameworks,

-      experience in governance, in confidence-building and in setting rules,

-      and stakeholders who act responsibly, especially in crisis situations.

I believe Europe has a lot to offer Asia in many of these areas.

Yes, we live in a world full of crises and dangers. But together, we have the means and capacities to contain the risks and to create new elements of order. And thus benefit from the huge opportunities we all see in this region of Asia-Pacific.

Thank you.

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