29th ASEAN Regional Forum: Speech by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
EEAS Press Team

The ties between ASEAN and the European Union are extremely valuable because our two regional organisations share strong aspirations. Both ASEAN and the European Union were founded to prevent conflict by bringing economies together and ensuring stability.

I would like to share the European Union’s perspective on four key challenges which threaten peace and stability in our regions:

First, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This unjustified and unprovoked military invasion is the greatest challenge to the rules-based international order and international law today. The military invasion of a smaller neighbour, grabbing its land and resources, and the targeted killing of civilians, are grave violations of the United Nations Charter and of international humanitarian law. This war has been condemned by 141 members of the UN.

It becomes difficult to trust a government which a week before the war indicated through the voice of its foreign minister, who is no longer here, that Russia did not intend to invade Ukraine. One of the justifications used by Russia is the existence of a Russian-speaking population. Do you think that the existence of minorities in a country can justify the military intervention of a neighbour sharing a common history and to destroy this country systematically? Yesterday, the figure of ten million Ukrainian refugees was reached.

Russian disinformation claims that it is the sanctions that we impose on Russia that are responsible for the global food insecurity and the increase of energy prices. Mr Lavrov referred to that here today. This is simply not true. The purchase, the transport, the payment and the import of Russian agricultural products are specifically exempted from the sanctions. Furthermore, the fact that we are phasing out Russian energy imports does not mean that we are asking anyone else to do the same. The responsibility lies with Russia’s war actions. More than 20 million tons of grain have been prevented to leave the ports of Ukraine. That is the fact.

Russia has been blocking one of the main bread baskets of the world from exporting its grain until some days ago.

I strongly hope that Russia will respect its commitments under the UN- and Turkey-brokered deal to allow the exports of grain from the Black Sea and stops bombing Ukrainian ports as it did in Odessa, just a few hours after having signed this agreement.

This conflict concerns most of you as much as it concerns us. It is not a conflict between the West and Russia. It is a conflict between an aggressor state that takes advantage of its military strength and a sovereign and independent country of which Russia has recognised the integrity of its borders by signing the Budapest Memorandum of 1994.

Second, the South China Sea. We observe an increased militarisation and destabilising actions. This threatens freedom of navigation and overflight and can affect international peace and security.

International law and maritime security in this region, as in any other maritime area, should not be undermined.

Disputes must be resolved through peaceful means and comply with the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The threat or use of force and provocative actions should be excluded.

That is why I encourage and support active progress in the ASEAN-led process towards an effective, substantive and legally binding Code of Conduct for this maritime area, respectful of the interests of third parties.

Let me add that the EU has a clear interest in the preservation of peace and the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

We are strongly concerned by the actions of China which fired ballistic missiles overflying Taiwan and several of them landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

These are highly worrying developments that lead to destabilisation and risk escalation. 

Nobody should unilaterally change the status quo by force in the region, and we need to resolve cross-Strait differences by peaceful means.

That is why the EU calls on all parties to remain calm, to exercise restraint, to act with transparency and to maintain open lines of communication to prevent any miscalculations that could lead to tragic consequences.

Third, Myanmar. The executions of four pro-democracy activists are a shocking signal to the world of the junta’s disregard for the lives and rights of Myanmar’s citizens and their desire for freedom.

We are concerned by the lack of progress in the implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus and stand ready to support ASEAN in its renewed efforts towards a peaceful and inclusive political solution.

Our priorities are to set an end to the violence, to resume a political settlement process, and to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

And fourth, the DPRK’s repeated launch of ballistic missiles violates relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. This also undermines regional and international peace and security.

Pyongyang must stop its destabilising actions and resume dialogue with key partners. The DPRK must adhere to UN Security Council resolutions, and we need to ensure actions under the mandate of the UN to prevent the flow of finance, components or knowledge that could support unlawful development of weapons.

To conclude, ASEAN is one of the most important organisations to help preserve peace and security and the EU wants to be your partner in this endeavour. It is of particular relevance today that we adopt the two statements on peace, stability and prosperity and on preserving the South-East Asia nuclear weapons free zone. 

Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0) 2 29 88093
+32 (0) 460 79 52 44
Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)2 29 73582
+32 (0)460 75 51 56