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Asian Leaders Call for Rules-Based Geopolitics, Reject Unilateral, Protectionist Moves

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With a rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamic, one underscored by escalating trade tensions between major powers, Asian leaders called for adherence to a “rules-based” order, and rejected unilateral and protectionist moves, on the closing day of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN, held in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.

“I think we need to establish rule-based international order and any unilateral challenge to the status quo; the international community needs to stand up against it,” remarked Taro Kono, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan. The “collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war” between the United States and China, he reiterated, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.

ASEAN leaders and their counterparts from Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka echoed concerns over rising unilateralism with regard to rising trade tensions and territorial concerns in the South China Sea, raising critical questions about the geopolitical implications of the global rebalancing.

“Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and friction between America and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order,” observed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. “What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law be decayed, diminished or can it be strengthened?”

China’s territorial moves in the South China Sea, commented Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore, will reveal what type of regulatory environment will prevail: “I will be watching out for developments in the South China Sea. China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. This matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether the balance of power in the region is governed by might or right,” noted Kuok.

While there are clear regional fractures, Kang Kyung-Wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, pointed out that there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearization efforts on the Korean Peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.

“On US-China relations, if you look at just the trade side it does look tense, but I think these are two big players on the global stage with strategic calculations that sometimes diverge, but also at times converge. And I think on the North Korea nuclear issue, they have converged,” said Kang, ahead of a third summit on the issue scheduled to be held in Pyongyang next week.

Rejecting nationalistic and protectionist trends that are resonating across the region, Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, turned to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of the meeting, cautioning that future growth must be inclusive otherwise disparity will become a geopolitical threat. “It is undeniable that the revolution offers tremendous opportunities; but if a country cannot seize the opportunities,” he said, “They can be left behind.”

In addition to traditional geopolitical threats, such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister said that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes on the back of climate change.

“The biggest concern is probably climate change, the sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, heavier rain,” said Kono of Japan’s position, “Once-in-a-hundred-years rain turns out to be once every two years. It is not just an environmental issue, but involves water supply management and food security. We really need to be serious about taking care of this issue.”

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UNIDO and Morocco’s MASEN to strengthen cooperation to deploy renewable energy technologies

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photo: UNIDO

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy of the Kingdom of Morocco (MASEN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop and implement projects deploying advanced renewable energy technologies in Morocco and targeted African countries, with the aim of creating aspirations to support African countries on their path towards inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

The partnership with MASEN complements UNIDO’s ongoing activities under its flagship ‘Low Carbon Low Emission Clean Energy Programme’ in Africa, which seeks to reduce poverty by promoting industrial growth through renewable sources of energy. It already started in 2017, on the margins of the 22nd Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), when UNIDO Director General LI Yong, and MASEN President Mustapha Bakkoury launched the Vanadium Flow Battery project to demonstrate smoothing and stabilizing electricity output. An official handover ceremony is planned to take place in Ouarzazate, Morocco, in conjunction with a workshop gathering Moroccan officials and representatives from neighboring countries.

With MASEN’s support, UNIDO proposes to create a platform for the dissemination of renewable energy technologies in targeted countries while developing the local production of some technology components, thus creating grounds for achieving shared prosperity, economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability.

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EU Politics

EU delivers on stronger European Border and Coast Guard to support Member States

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Today, the Council has officially adopted the Commission’s proposal to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency will have a standing corps of 10,000 border guards, a stronger mandate on returns and will also be able to cooperate more closely with non-EU countries, including those beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. This will give the Agency the right level of ambition to respond to the challenges facing Europe in managing migration and its external borders.

Welcoming today’s final adoption, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Migration and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

“Today the European Union has achieved an ambitious task of transforming the EU border agency, Frontex, into a fully-fledged European Border and Coast Guard. This Agency will be equipped to offer tangible support to Member States to manage the EU’s external border – wherever and whenever needed.

From less than 300 border guards on the ground in 2014, the European Border and Coast Guard is now deploying around 1,300 officers and will soon have a 10,000-strong standing corps available for deployment. This is a collective achievement, which would not have been possible without strong political support for a common approach.

The European Border and Coast Guard is now stronger than ever. While Member States will remain responsible for the management of external borders, the standing corps will provide unprecedented operational support on the ground. Its officers will be able to assist national border guards in conducting identity and document checks, with border surveillance and return operations.

The Agency will also provide support beyond the EU’s borders. With European Border and Coast Guard officers already deployed in Albania and soon in other Western Balkan countries also, the Agency will be able to cooperate with third countries beyond the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

We have spared no effort to make sure that Member States have the necessary tools to protect their borders and ensure the security of European citizens.

But our work is not yet done. The Commission will now provide its full support to help the Agency quickly take up its new tasks and ensure the standing corps swiftly reaches its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.”

Next steps

The European Parliament and the Council will now jointly sign the final text. The text will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and the European Border and Coast Guard’s reinforced mandate will enter into force 20 days later. The new European Border and Coast Guard standing corps will be ready for deployment from 2021, and will then gradually reach its full capacity of 10,000 border guards.

Background

The European Border and Coast Guard consists of Member States’ authorities responsible for border management and return, and of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. It was established in 2016, building on the existing structures of Frontex, to meet the new challenges and political realities faced by the EU, both as regards migration and internal security. The reliance on voluntary contributions of staff and equipment by Member States has however resulted in persistent gaps affecting the efficiency of the support the European Border and Coast Guard Agency could offer.

In his 2018 State of the Union Address President Juncker announced that the Commission will reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard even further. The objective of this upgrade was to equip the Agency with a standing corps of 10,000 border guards and to provide the agency with its own equipment to allow it to respond to challenges as they arise. The European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission’s proposal on 28 March 2019. With the last step completed in the Council today, both institutions have now formally adopted the text.

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EU Politics

EU-Singapore agreement to enter into force on 21 November 2019

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EU Member States today endorsed the trade agreement between the EU and Singapore. This means the agreement will enter into force as soon as 21 November.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “This is the European Union’s first bilateral trade agreement with a Southeast Asian country, a building block towards a closer relationship between Europe and one of the most dynamic regions in the world. It crowns the efforts of this Commission to build a network of partners committed to open, fair and rules based trade. Trade has created 5 million new jobs in the EU since I took office in 2014, and now contributes to the employment of 36 million people. This, together with the fact that it accounts for 35% of the EU GDP, shows how critical trade is for Europe’s prosperity.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “Our trade agreement with Singapore provides further evidence of our commitment to fair and rules-based trade. The agreement will benefit workers, farmers and companies of all sizes, both here and in Singapore. It also includes strong clauses protecting human and labour rights and the environment. This agreement means that in the last five years we have put in place 16 EU trade deals. This brings the total to 42 trade agreements with 73 partners, accounting for a third of total EU trade. This is the largest such network in the world.”

Singapore is by far the EU’s largest trading partner in the Southeast Asian region, with a total bilateral trade in goods of over €53 billion and another €51 billion of trade in services. Over 10,000 EU companies are established in Singapore and use it as a hub for the whole Pacific region. Singapore is also the number one location for European investment in Asia, with investment between the EU and Singapore growing rapidly in recent years: combined bilateral investment stocks reached €344 billion in 2017.

Under the trade agreement, Singapore will remove all remaining tariffs on EU products. The agreement also provides new opportunities for EU services’ providers, among others in sectors such as telecommunications, environmental services, engineering, computing and maritime transport. It will also make the business environment more predictable. The agreement will also enable legal protection for 138* iconic European food and drink products, known as Geographical Indications. Singapore is already the third largest destination for such European specialty products. Singapore also agreed to remove obstacles to trade besides tariffs in key sectors, for instance by recognising the EU’s safety tests for cars and many electronic appliances or by accepting labels that EU companies use for textiles.

The EU and Singapore have also concluded an investment protection agreement, which can enter into force after it has been ratified by all EU Member States according to their own national procedures.

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