Jakarta. The European Union's mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), was officially inaugurated in Jakarta on Tuesday, with officials saying it will be exclusively dedicated to strengthening a relationship that is already excellent.
"We try to elevate the relations we have with Asean to the strategic level," Francisco Fontan Pardo, the EU ambassador to Asean, told a press conference. "This is very ambitious because we already have a very dense cooperation with Asean across a very wide range of sectors -- from culture to economy, security, humanitarian [issues], you name it."
"The idea is to try and see if we can bring it [the relationship] up to the highest possible political level.”
Asean as a whole nation is the EU’s third-largest trade partner, after the United States and China. The EU is Asean's second-largest trading partner, after China.
"Asean has always considered the EU as one of its most important major partners," Asean Secretary General Le Luong Minh said at the inauguration. "As we move on to our next phase of the partnership, we look forward to the continuing support from the EU to further strengthen our political cohesion, economic integration and people-to-people-centered community."
Derry Aman, the director for Asean dialogue partners and inter-regional cooperation at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, also hailed the EU move.
"We are very happy and it gives us at the ministry great pleasure to welcome another new mission," Derry said.
"The European Union has been one of the most important dialogue partners of Asean since 1977 and it is significant that Asean-EU cooperation has been elevated throughout all of these years."
The stated aim of the strategic partnership between the EU and Asean is to shift beyond the current, predominantly bilateral mindset and to strive for greater engagement on key regional and global issues. These include climate change, disaster risk reduction and increasing resilience, poverty eradication, and countering terrorism and radicalization.
During the 2014-20 period, the EU has pledged 170 million euros to support Asean integration and the association's secretariat in Jakarta with more than 170 million euros ($184 million), which is an increase of 100 million euros compared to 2007-13.