What are the military relations between Bangladesh and Singapore

South East Asia

The EU is striving for closer contacts with the countries of Southeast Asia and supports regional integration in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The EU is a strong economic player in Southeast Asia and a major donor of development aid. She is committed to institution building, democracy, good governance and human rights. The EU has geostrategic concerns about the region, for example the dispute over the South China Sea, and environmental concerns about the Mekong sub-region. It mobilized a “Team Europe” financial package worth over EUR 800 million to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the region and to mitigate its socio-economic impact.

The subject of this brief description is the Southeast Asian region. Further summaries are devoted to South Asia (5.6.7) and East Asia (5.6.8).

Legal basis

  • Title V (EU external action) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU);
  • Articles 206-207 (trade) and 216-219 (international agreements) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU);
  • Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) (bilateral relations).

A. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The first ASEAN summit was held in Bali in February 1976 and brought together Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, as well as Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar / Burma. ASEAN has a strict policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of its member states.

The EU and ASEAN are like-minded partners in a challenging geopolitical context who both believe in rules-based multilateralism. Over four decades, ASEAN and the EU have built a strong relationship based primarily on trade and economic ties. There is tremendous potential for greater engagement based on common interests and values.

The EU has a strategic interest in the development of regional integration in Asia and is working towards partnership and cooperation agreements (PCAs) and free trade agreements (FTAs) with the individual ASEAN member states. For ASEAN, the EU is the second most important trading partner as 13% of all trade with the rest of the world is with the EU. After the USA and China, ASEAN is the EU's third largest partner outside of Europe. The overriding goal is still the conclusion of an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement at regional level.

The 36th ASEAN Summit took place in Hanoi in June 2020. Most importantly, it was about the response to COVID-19, the recovery from the pandemic and further cooperation. The leaders also called for self-restraint and non-militarization in the South China Sea. Following the summit, in July 2020 the EU mobilized a 'Team Europe' financial package worth over € 800 million to support measures at country and regional level to tackle the COVID-19 health crisis directly.

Parliament supports the intensification of relations between the EU and ASEAN in order to create a strategic partnership and to strengthen its relations with the parliaments of the ASEAN countries by creating an interregional parliamentary dialogue between the European Parliament and the AIPA [1], which is the parliamentary Diplomacy strengthens.

B. Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership (ASEP) meeting

The 14th Asia-Europe meeting took place in Madrid in December 2019 and served to strengthen economic cooperation, political dialogue and promote personal contacts between the EU and Asia.

The tenth meeting of the Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership (ASEP-10) took place in Brussels in September 2018. The partners emphasized the need to act quickly and effectively in the areas of climate change, security cooperation, trade relations and human rights. The US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement highlighted the importance of Asia-Europe relations and multilateralism for a rules-based world order. However, this requires more transparency in working methods. The eleventh meeting of the Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership (ASEP-11) is planned for 2021 in Phnom Penh (Cambodia).

C. Indonesia

G20 member Indonesia is the third largest democracy in the world and the largest country with a Muslim majority in its population. The country is becoming more and more important as a partner for the EU.

Indonesia held its presidential, parliamentary and regional elections in April 2020. For the first time, these elections took place at the same time. The final election results showed that Joko Widodo (Indonesian Democratic Party) was re-elected for a second term. The regional elections are scheduled for December 2020. 9 governors, 224 district heads and 37 mayors are elected in the country. Joko Widodo's leadership position and great popularity have been challenged by COVID-19. The government is prioritizing infrastructure development with the help of foreign and private investments. In the short term, however, policy-making is focused on containing the pandemic and getting the economy back on the path to recovery. In October 2020, Indonesia passed the controversial job creation law, which the government says will attract investment. Because of its feared effects on the environment and workers' rights, however, it is currently being challenged before the Constitutional Court. The Indonesian economy relies on a strong private sector. Indonesia's GDP is expected to grow by around 5% per year for the entire period between 2018 and 2022. However, the government has revised its forecast downwards due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. After that, it should see a decline of 1.1% to a growth of 0.2%.

Relations between the EU and Indonesia are governed by the 2014 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Indonesia and the EU held the fourth meeting of the Joint Committee in Jakarta in February 2020. The main topics were the latest political and economic developments, the implementation of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, sectoral cooperation and relations between the EU and ASEAN. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and their aim to develop and accelerate their cooperation on the environment, natural resources, climate change, legal deforestation and the circular economy. With palm oil remaining a sensitive issue for Indonesia (which is the world's largest palm oil producer and has lodged a complaint against the EU's biofuel policy at the WTO), leaders have called for certification of sustainable production and responsible trade.

In December 2019, the ninth round of negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement between the EU and Indonesia took place in Brussels. A wide range of issues were discussed, in particular trade in goods and services, investments and rules of origin. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the EU and Indonesia held a virtual round of negotiations in most of the negotiating groups in June 2020. With a total trade value of over EUR 30 billion (2019), the EU is Indonesia's third largest trading partner. In 2017, EU investments in Indonesia amounted to € 33.1 billion. The 5th Security Policy Dialogue between the EU and Indonesia was held virtually in October 2020. The EU and Indonesia discussed the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, the fight against narcotics, peacekeeping, maritime security, cybersecurity, non-proliferation and disaster management.

On October 24, 2019, Parliament adopted a resolution on Indonesia's proposed new criminal law, which allows discrimination based on gender, religion or sexual orientation, as well as discrimination against minorities. It welcomed President Widodo's decision to postpone his adoption after massive protests by thousands of people across the country.

D. Myanmar / Burma

The EU has actively supported Myanmar / Burma in its democratic transition and has played a leading role in resuming international community cooperation with Myanmar / Burma since the country began to restore democracy and open up to the world. Due to decades of international isolation and the corresponding sanctions, there is no official framework agreement. In 2016 the Council approved a strategy for relations with Myanmar / Burma.

Since the 2015 elections, the EU, including the European Parliament, has seen progress on democratic reforms. Aung San Suu Kyi acts as State Advisor, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Office of the President and has real executive powers. However, the constitution of Myanmar / Burma, which was drawn up by the military government in 2008, limits the new government's scope for action. The civil war that began in 1948 is still raging in the country. A ceasefire was agreed in October 2015 but was not signed by some ethnic insurgent groups.

The last general election took place on November 8, 2020. The ruling National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi (NLD) won enough seats in parliament to form a new government. The opposition, backed by Myanmar's army, accused the government of alleged irregularities.

The EU is an important economic partner and donor of development aid and promotes democracy and institution building. It made EUR 688 million available for this in the period 2014-2020. The movement of goods between the two partners reached a total value of EUR 3.4 billion in 2019. As one of the least developed countries, Myanmar benefits from the “Everything but Arms” trade initiative under the General System of Preferences (GSP), which allows companies to make duty-free and quota-free exports to the EU market for all products with the exception of arms and ammunition .

Myanmar / Burma is grappling with escalating tensions between communities. On August 21, 2020, the fourth meeting of the peace conference (“21st Century Panglong”) was resumed. The aim of the conference is to resolve conflicts between the military and ethnic insurgent groups by converting a nationwide ceasefire agreement into a permanent settlement.

The 6th EU-Myanmar / Burma human rights dialogue took place in October 2020. The EU and Myanmar / Burma discussed the situation in the Rakhaing, Kachin and Shan states, access to humanitarian aid and the situation of internally displaced persons, as well as responsibility for alleged human rights violations, fundamental rights and freedoms, economic and social rights, labor rights, the rights of women and human rights cooperation in multilateral fora. The EU also confirmed its strong support for democratic change in Myanmar / Burma, particularly in the context of its peace and reconciliation process.

The human rights situation currently requires particular attention, particularly with regard to the persecution of the Rohingya in the state of Rakhine. Since August 2017, over 800,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to avoid persecution in Myanmar / Burma. In August 2019, thousands of refugees rejected attempts by Bangladesh, Myanmar / Burma and the UN to send them back home because of security concerns.

In its resolution of 19 September 2019, Parliament condemned the human rights violations of the Rohingya. In November 2019, the Gambia filed a lawsuit against Myanmar / Burma with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the basis of the United Nations Convention on Genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi appeared before the ICJ in December 2019, denied allegations of intended genocide and defended the Tatmadaw, the armed forces of Myanmar. In January 2020, the ICJ issued urgent measures calling on Myanmar to stop the violence in Rakhine and to secure evidence of possible genocide.

E. Philippines

In May 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election with 39% of the vote. Since then, he has taken controversial measures against drug trafficking, including shooting orders, which resulted in serious human rights violations. President Duterte also embarked on a new course in the Philippines' foreign policy by forging a new alliance with Russia and China regardless of the controversy over the South China Sea and the fact that the Philippines are among the ASEAN claimants in the dispute . ASEAN and China are trying to negotiate a code of conduct. However, the talks were suspended during the COVID-19 crisis.

In May 2017, Duterte proclaimed martial law for the island of Mindanao until the end of 2019, primarily due to the presence of fighters from the so-called Islamic State in the majority Muslim city of Marawi and other cities. IS committed itself to the attacks that took place in the southern Philippines in September 2019. The EU has supported the Mindanao peace process for many years and welcomed the peaceful implementation of the referendum in early 2019. The EU remains committed to supporting the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Mindanao through various instruments.

According to various polls, the vast majority of Filipinos support the government's approach to contain COVID-19 and its efforts to support those who have lost their jobs. Duterte is gaining confidence and the next presidential election is scheduled for May 2022.

The EU has growing concerns about human rights abuses, particularly with regard to extrajudicial executions related to the “war on drugs” and the anti-terrorism law passed in July 2020. As the Philippines has been using the EU's trade preference system (GSP +) since December 2014, the EU reminded the country of its obligation to ratify and ratify international conventions on human and labor rights at the 108th session of the ILO conference in Geneva in June 2019 to be implemented as stipulated in the GSP Plus Agreement.

In 2011, the EU and the Philippines signed a partnership and cooperation agreement that came into force in March 2018. The first Joint Committee met in Brussels on January 28, 2020 and set up three specialized sub-committees: on development cooperation; trade, investment and economic cooperation; and good governance, rule of law and human rights.

Through the Joint Committee, the Philippines and the EU can develop the full potential of working together in various sectors to strengthen bilateral relationships and bonds based on mutual interest and respect.

The EU is a major donor to the country and provided funding of € 325 million over the 2014-2020 period. The rule of law and inclusive growth are central. Bilateral trade in goods between the EU and the Philippines amounted to EUR 14.9 billion in 2019. The EU is also the Philippines' fourth largest trading partner. Negotiations on a free trade agreement between the EU and the Philippines began in December 2015. The first round of talks took place in May 2016. A wide range of topics are covered, including tariffs, non-tariff barriers, trade in services and investments, and trade aspects of public procurement, intellectual property, competition and sustainable development.

In its resolution of September 17, 2020, Parliament called on the EU and the member states to actively support the adoption of a UN Human Rights Council resolution. The resolution also calls on the Commission to temporarily suspend trade preferences for the Philippines as the country does not meet human rights conditions.

F. Vietnam

Relations between the EU and Vietnam are based on the 2016 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. A total of € 400 million will be allocated over the 2014-2020 period, with a focus on good governance, energy and climate change, particularly in the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam is still a communist one-party state with no political freedoms. At the same time, however, it is also one of the most successful examples of a country that has made the transition from a failed communist economic system to an open and market-oriented economy.The country is one of the fastest growing ASEAN countries with a GDP growth rate that averaged almost 7% between 2010 and 2020. Trade in goods between the EU and Vietnam amounted to EUR 45.5 billion in 2019. The EU's foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vietnam was EUR 7.4 billion in 2018.

On February 12, 2020, Parliament approved a free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam (FTA) and an investment protection agreement. The EU and Vietnam ratified the FTA on June 8, 2020 (and it entered into force on August 1, 2020). The FTA includes the immediate elimination of 65% of tariffs on EU exports to Vietnam and 71% of tariffs on imports from Vietnam. The ratification of the investment protection agreement between the EU and Vietnam by individual member states is still pending.

The eighth round of the human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam took place in Brussels on March 4, 2019. Issues such as freedom of expression, the death penalty and cybersecurity were discussed. On October 17, 2019, the EU and Vietnam signed a framework participation agreement to create a legal basis for Vietnam's participation in EU crisis management operations.

G. Thailand

The partnership between the EU and Thailand is based on a framework agreement from 1980. In March 2013, both sides concluded negotiations on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which was suspended after the 2014 military coup. On October 14, 2019, the Council adopted conclusions expressing the wish to gradually move closer politically. Since then, progress has been made in preparing for the early signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which would significantly expand EU-Thailand cooperation. Meanwhile, measures are also being taken to resume negotiations on an ambitious and comprehensive FTA.

For Thailand, the EU is the third largest export market. For its part, Thailand is one of the EU's most important trading partners within the framework of ASEAN. The bilateral movement of goods amounted to EUR 33.1 billion in 2019. The 14th meeting of senior officials between the EU and Thailand took place in Brussels on October 16, 2019. The topics of trade, migration, cooperation, climate change and human rights were discussed.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, but has been ruled by a military junta since May 22, 2014. The military suppressed counter-movements by declaring martial law. Human rights violations were also reported in this context. King Bhumibol Adulyadej died at the end of 2016. King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun was crowned in May 2019, despite having held the throne for two years.

In the parliamentary elections on March 24, 2019, the pro-military party won, although there was talk of manipulation, misinformation and inconsistencies in voter turnout. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the 2014 former military leader, was named Prime Minister in June 2019. Cham-ocha was Prime Minister from 2014-2019 under the “National Council for Peace and Order” NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order). Although military rule officially ended in July 2019, the military still has influence over the government.

The ongoing protests by the Thai people against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ochas are also about demands for reforms of the Thai monarchy, which has not been the case in the present. On February 23, 2020, the first wave of protests was triggered by the decision of the Constitutional Court to dissolve the opposition party New Future, which is popular with young people. The New Future party won the third highest number of seats in the House of Representatives following the March 2019 elections and has proven to be the most active opposition party in recent months. On October 15, 2020, the Thai government declared a state of emergency in an attempt to put an end to the protests. In this way, she secured the right to impose curfews and apply martial law.

In February 2017, the junta started peace talks with the insurgents in the southern provinces, where there is a Muslim majority. Thailand officially launched a peace process with the insurgent group Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Patani (BRN) from southern Thailand on February 21, 2020 in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia acted as mediator in the negotiations.

The European Parliament adopted various resolutions on human rights, migrant workers and workers' rights in Thailand.

H. Cambodia

The cornerstone of relations between the EU and Cambodia is the 1977 Cooperation Agreement. The EU is the country's largest donor and will provide EUR 410 million in funding for the period 2014-2020 to improve governance and the rule of law as well intended for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Years of civil war have made Cambodia one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Following the Paris Peace Agreement of 1991, Cambodia adopted a constitution in 1993 that laid the foundations for a liberal, democratic state with a multi-party system and regular elections. In view of the worrying political developments and the ongoing damage to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, the Council adopted conclusions on Cambodia on 26 February 2018.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) won the parliamentary elections on July 29, 2018, but the opposition said the electoral process was neither free nor fair. The leader of the opposition party - the Cambodian National Rescue Party, CNRP - Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017. Sam Rainsy, the former chairman of the CNRP, has lived in self-elected exile since 2015. The CNRP was dissolved in November 2017. Kem Sokha's house arrest was lifted in November 2019, but he is still under judicial supervision. He has been charged with treason and banned from engaging in political activities. Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly said in September 2020 that Sokha's case could be heard in court for up to four more years, until after the 2022 local elections or the 2023 national elections.

In February 2020, the Commission decided to withdraw part of Cambodia's tariff preferences under the Everything But Arms trade initiative due to serious and systematic violations of human rights principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The corresponding ordinance came into force on April 25, 2020 and became effective on August 12, 2020. Cambodia's economy is dependent on international aid and exports of textiles, and is heavily dependent on labor costs. The withdrawal of the preferential tariffs and their replacement by the EU standard tariffs mainly concern clothing and shoes. The withdrawal accounts for one fifth or EUR 1 billion of Cambodian exports to the EU each year.

In September 2017, Parliament passed a resolution calling on the Cambodian government to end the politically motivated persecution of Kem Sokha. In September 2018, it passed another resolution calling for all allegations against Kem Sokha to be dropped and for him to be released immediately.

I. Singapore

The EU and Singapore work very closely together in the fields of business, science and technology. On February 13, 2019, the EU and Singapore ratified three agreements that introduce a new section. These are the partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU and Singapore (EUSPCA) as well as a corresponding free trade agreement (EUSFTA) and an investment protection agreement (EUSIPA). The free trade agreement with Singapore entered into force on November 21, 2019. The aim of these agreements is to strengthen political, economic and trade relations between the two parties and to significantly reduce tariffs on both sides. Technical and non-tariff barriers to trade are being dismantled in numerous sectors.

The EU is Singapore's third most important trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods amounted to EUR 47 billion in 2019. Singapore is a major destination for European investment in Asia. In 2017, the EU's foreign direct investment amounted to EUR 227 billion. Singapore is in turn the third largest Asian investor in the EU. General elections were held in the country on July 10, 2020. The date for this was actually set for April 2021. This gave Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his government the opportunity to address the current threat posed by COVID-19 and its economic impact. Lee Hsien Loong and his People’s Action Party (PAP) won 83 out of 93 seats in parliament, while the largest opposition faction, the Workers’ Party, had the best results in its history and won 10 seats. The PAP has never lost an election before and has ruled the city-state since 1959. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong long ago announced that he would hand over power before his 70th birthday in 2022. Treasury Secretary Heng Swee Keat, Lee's deputy, has great prospects of success.

While supporting the work of civil society, the EU and Parliament remain unequivocal in calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

J. Brunei Darussalam

The country is ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, while Prince Billah Bolkiah takes on more and more responsibilities. There is no political liberalization. The Criminal Code was revised in 2014 to include a new Sharia-based approach. In April 2019, a new Criminal Code was enacted that provides for new penalties such as death by stoning for homosexual relationships and adultery, and limb amputation in the event of theft. However, following an international outcry, Brunei has extended the moratorium on the death penalty.

The EU is actively working to improve relations with Brunei Darussalam. However, there is not yet a framework agreement. A partnership and cooperation agreement is currently being negotiated between the EU and Brunei, which will cover a range of political and economic areas. Relations are primarily controlled via ASEAN. In 2018, the EU was the fifth largest partner in trade in goods in Brunei. The total value was EUR 740 million. Trade between the EU and Brunei is mainly in machinery, vehicles and chemicals.

In its resolution of April 18, 2019, Parliament strongly condemned the entry into force of Sharia criminal law. It reiterated its condemnation of the death penalty and stressed that the provisions of Sharia criminal law violate Brunei's obligations under international human rights law.

K. Laos (People's Democratic Republic of Laos)

Relations between the EU and Laos are based on the 1997 Cooperation Agreement. The EU is providing EUR 500 million for the period 2016-2020 and supporting the eighth National Socio-Economic Development Plan of Laos. The plan seeks to achieve strong economic growth and aims to overcome the status of a least developed country by 2020. Development Commissioner Mimica visited Laos in September 2019 to strengthen ties and to discuss issues such as nutrition, good governance and trade-related aid.

Laos is a one-party state. The Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) has been in power since the end of the civil war in 1975 and has ruled the country with a firm hand with no opposition party to challenge it. The country's next national elections are scheduled for 2021. Laos is currently expanding its relations with China and ASEAN and is trying to attract more investment into the country. The economic reforms have led to sustainable economic growth. Since 2014, economic reforms have enabled a sustainable growth rate of over 7% to be achieved. The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for this agenda, some of which affect economic growth, which is estimated to decline to −0.6% to −2.4% in 2020.

Despite the economic reforms, the country is still poor and dependent on international aid. Laos is one of the least developed countries and can therefore benefit from the EU's “everything but arms” trade regime. The trade in goods between the EU and Laos reached a total value of EUR 380 million in 2019.

The EU has in the past paid particular attention to the human rights situation in the country, including the situation of the displaced due to a large dam on the Mekong. The ninth annual human rights dialogue between the EU and Laos took place in Vientiane in March 2019. At the 108th session of the ILO conference in Geneva in June 2019, the EU called on Laos to tackle the problem of the sexual exploitation of children.

L. Malaysia

The EU and Malaysia concluded negotiations on a partnership and cooperation agreement in December 2015. The rounds of negotiations on a free trade agreement between the EU and Malaysia were suspended in April 2012 after seven rounds at the request of Malaysia. The EU is Malaysia's third largest trading partner and one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment. In 2017, corresponding investments in the country amounted to EUR 24.5 billion. Trade in goods between the two sides totaled EUR 36.6 billion in 2019. Malaysia's GDP growth was 4.5% in 2019. However, growth was slowed in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the end of March 2019, the Commission announced that the use of palm oil in fuels would be phased out. The basis for this is the guideline for the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, which sets the target of 32% for the share of sustainable bioenergy. Both Indonesia and Malaysia protested and lodged complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO). According to the EU, the production of palm oil leads to excessive deforestation. However, Malaysia insists that it is working to improve the sustainability of its palm oil industry. Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer in the world and is acting as a third party to the Indonesian cause out of solidarity with Indonesia. In May 2018 parliamentary elections were held in Malaysia, in which the government alliance Barisan Nasional (BN), in which Malaysia's largest political party (United Malays National Organization - UNMO) is involved, had to admit defeat for the first time. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, chairman of the Alliance of Hope, replaced Najib Razak, who will face a twelve-year prison sentence if his appeal is unsuccessful. In November 2019, the opposition Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won a by-election and the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad fell apart. With the support of UMNO, King Abdullah sworn in in March 2020, Muhyiddin Yassin, chairman of the United Indigenous Party (PPBM), as prime minister and chairman of the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition. On October 13, 2020, however, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim asked the king to prove that he had a convincing majority in favor of forming a new government in parliament and called on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to resign.

The European Parliament condemned the death penalty as well as the lack of respect for LGBTI rights and sharply criticized the suppressed public displeasure and the lack of peaceful expression and public debate.

[1] AIPA: ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly.

Jorge Soutullo / Andreas Striegnitz