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Reference:

Problems of Implementing the EU's Inter-regional Policy in the Asian Direction

Uryupina Alisa Eduardovna

Teaching and learning specialist, Moscow State Institute of International Relations

76 Vernadsky Ave., Moscow, 119454, Russia

uryupina2010@yandex.ru

DOI:

10.25136/2409-8671.2022.4.38967

EDN:

EZSCDV

Review date:

17-10-2022


Publish date:

30-12-2022


Abstract: Interregionalism occupies an important place in the foreign policy of the European Union, because through it the EU seeks to expand its presence in various regions of the world and export its norms, views and values. The promising, rapidly developing Asian region is no exception. This article is devoted to the study of the process of building an interregional policy by the European Union in the Asian direction, namely with the largest regional association in the region - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The purpose of this study is to identify the main factors hindering the building of effective cooperation between the regions, as well as the creation of a free trade zone (FTA). The main conclusion of this study is that there are a number of obstacles to the creation of the EU-ASEAN intercontinental free trade area, which significantly affect the relations between regional groupings. Firstly, it is the practice of concluding bilateral agreements, used as a springboard for the future FTA. Bilateral agreements have already been successfully signed with individual countries, namely Singapore and Vietnam, but contradictions of both an economic and political nature arise with other ASEAN member countries. Secondly, the existing competition with China and the United States for influence in the region hinders the EU's attempts to pursue its inter-regional policy.


Keywords:

European Union, ASEAN, Interregionalism, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Asia-Europe Meeting, Trans-Pacific Partnership, transregionalism, Free trading zone, interregional cooperation, bilateral partnership

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

Currently, the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are the two most successful regional organizations in the world. The EU is a regional mechanism involved in interaction with almost all regions of the world, developing both inter-regional (with other regional groupings) and trans-regional (with individual states) ties. Today, it remains a strong player in the international arena, in trade, development cooperation, promotion of regional integration, democracy and also in security policy. Interregionalism is a tool for implementing the EU's foreign policy, because through it the EU exports its norms and values around the world and expands its presence in the global space. In turn, ASEAN has made a lot of progress in building inter-regional ties. To date, ASEAN has established ties with such regional groupings as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Common Market of the Southern Cone Countries (MERCOSUR), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Southeast Asian region is of great interest to the EU, both economically and geopolitically. Considering the implementation of the EU's inter-regional policy in Southeast Asia, first of all, it should be noted what is meant by the concept of inter-regionalism.

The problems of interregional and wider - trans-regional cooperation attract more and more attention from both foreign and Russian researchers every year. One of the first and fundamental works revealing the concept of interregionalism, as well as the study of its main features, is the monograph "Interregionalism and International Relations" by Ralph Rollof, Heiner Hennga and Jurgen R?lland. Researchers have made the first attempts to analyze interregionalism as an international strategy. They also classified interregionalism in the most detail by the types of subjects involved: relations between a regional organization and a separate state of another region, relations between two regional integration groups, relations between a regional organization/forum and a regional integration group, relations between groups of states and an integration group and relations between individual states from different regions of the world [27]. Juren R?lland distinguishes the concepts of transregionalism and interregionalism in his works. He considers interregionalism as a process of establishing ties between two regional associations, and characterizes the process of transregionalization as cooperation not only with regional intra-regional associations, but also with individual states. In his opinion, interregionalism is manifested in the cooperation of such regional associations as ASEAN EU, EU-MERCOSUR. Trans-regional associations, in turn, are characterized by the establishment of common institutions, forums, a common identity and the desire for consolidation as an international actor. An example of such associations can be the AsiaEurope Summit, APEC [36].

Among the Russian researchers who pay attention to the phenomenon of interregionalism, it is necessary to note the works of D.A. Kuznetsov devoted to the understanding of transregionalism as a phenomenon of world politics [6], the problems of terminology and conceptualization of this phenomenon [5], as well as its connection with the megatrends of world politics [4]. In the work "Transregionalism a new phenomenon of world politics" D.A. Kuznetsov and M.M. Lebedeva distinguish three types of transregional relations, where the first type is interregionalism (or interregionalism). The authors understand it as a connection between two integration associations or an integration entity with a separate state [6].

Thus, studying the EU's interregionalism from Southeast Asia, it should be noted that pure interregionalism, as a process of establishing ties between two regional associations [36], is observed only in the format of EU-ASEAN cooperation. Also, there is a transregional format of dialogue within the framework of the Asia-Europe Forum (ASEM), which is a network trans-regionalism (a format of relations between regional integration groups, individual states and groups of states representing different regions [4]). ASEAN's relations with its dialogue partners in the Asia-Pacific region within the framework of the ASEAN Regional Forum, AsiaEurope (ASEM) summits determine their active participation in the construction of a new world order.

The purpose of this article is to identify the features of inter-regional cooperation between the EU and ASEAN, as well as to identify the main factors hindering successful inter-regional cooperation.

Historical prerequisites for the formation of EU-ASEAN inter-regional cooperationThe Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN is one of the first regional organizations in East Asia, established in 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.

Since the establishment of the Association, it has included Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand (since 1967), subsequently its expansion took place: Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos, Myanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999). This integration project is unique in its essence, as it represents a special form of regional construction, which is defined by various researchers as "soft", "open" regionalism or "the ASEAN way" [7]. The principles of sovereign equality, non-interference in the internal politics of other States, social harmony and economic prosperity form the basis of ASEAN's own approach to regional cooperation. It should be noted that this model of integration differs from the one that developed in the EU. ASEAN consists of countries that differ in their socio-economic and cultural-historical structure. In the participating countries, there is a strong gap between their level of development, when in the EU this gap is minimal. As for the political aspect, the degree of development of democratic institutions and the level of political awareness in countries also vary significantly. In ASEAN, the degree of internal consolidation and integration is many times less than in the EU, but thanks to this, the Southeast Asian countries have more freedom in implementing their foreign policy agenda [10]. Also, unlike the EU, the ASEAN format does not imply political integration and does not provide for the delegation of powers of states to the supranational level [9].

The idea of starting close cooperation with the EU (at that time still the EEC) appeared in 1971 at the IV meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers, which was due to a number of political and economic reasons. First of all, the ASEAN countries were attracted by the idea of finding new sales markets and favorable conditions for participation in the European generalized system of preferences in trade with developing countries, as well as the development of ties with the EEC could balance the traditional American and Japanese influence in Southeast Asia growing after the 1970s. To achieve these goals, a Special Coordination Committee was established in 1972, which began the history of interregional cooperation between the two regional groupings. The impetus for closer cooperation of organizations at that time was given by the oil crisis of 1973 and 1979, when the countries faced a slowdown in economic growth and a decline in production. Since 1977, interaction began to take place at the level of a dialogue partnership, interminister meetings were held. At the II Interministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur, in 1980, an Agreement on Cooperation between ASEAN and the EEC was signed, which proclaimed the principle of equal cooperation, and also paid attention to economic development issues. On the basis of this agreement, a Joint Cooperation Committee was created whose task was to create executive bodies of the partnership. So, subsequently, a number of formats of inter-regional cooperation were organized: meetings of ministers of the two organizations, meetings of senior officials, Business Council, business summits, working groups and other formats.

After the end of the cold war, cooperation acquired a pronounced political and ideological coloring. Western countries supported and promoted the idea of a "democratic world", which caused rejection in the ASEAN countries and was understood as imposing new rules of the game, which served to cool relations. Only in 1994 there was a rapprochement of the blocs, the XI meeting of the foreign Ministers of the EU and ASEAN countries was held, at which the parties outlined new ways of cooperation, and the EU, in turn, recognized the peculiarities of the political culture of the ASEAN countries [18]. In 2003, the European Commission issued a new appeal entitled "New Partnership with Southeast Asia", reflecting an updated approach to partnership with Southeast Asian countries. It assumed more flexible relations, the use of multilateral and bilateral ties, taking into account differences in political and socio-economic development.

The new appeal identifies six priority areas of cooperation, as well as describes actions that will help in the development and improvement of EU relations with ASEAN countries: 1) support for regional stability and the fight against terrorism 2) building partnerships based on constructive dialogue, encouraging the development of democratic principles and effective support 3) assistance in solving internal problems in Southeast Asian countries, in particular on migration, human trafficking, money laundering, piracy, organized crime and drugs 4) development of trade and investment relations between regions through the implementation of the EU-ASEAN transregional initiative with further signing of the free trade Agreement 5) support for the development of less developed ASEAN countries, such as LAOS, Cambodia, Vietnam, assistance in combating hunger and poverty, improving health, education and environmental protection systems 6) intensification of dialogue and cooperation within the framework of region-wide sectoral programs, which will contribute to the revival of EU relations with the South-EastEast Asia [17].

In 2007, the Declaration on In-Depth Partnership was adopted in Nuremberg, which was based on the priorities of cooperation from the message of the European Commission in 2003, which marked the transition to comprehensive and integrated cooperation. Another important document in the development of EU-ASEAN relations was the Bangkok Declaration on the Activation of the Global Partnership between ASEAN and the EU in order to achieve the strategic goals of 2016 [15]. This document focuses on the importance of common values and interests, such as the principles of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, equality for all states, including the principles of the UN Charter, international law and the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which bind the two regions in a long-term integration partnership. It also mentions the progress made in improving relations between ASEAN and the EU, through the creation of a special EU mission to ASEAN, and progress in collectively countering common challenges and threats.

Alternative forms of cooperation between the EU and ASEAN There are specialized cooperation programs between the EU and ASEAN on a regular basis.

For example, an expanded program of support for regional integration with ASEAN by the EU - The ASEAN Regional Integration Support by the EU (ARISE PLUS). This program was developed for 4 years from 2017 to 2022 to promote economic integration. ARISE Plus consists of 4 components: 1) increasing the transparency of legislation and regulation in the field of trade, 2) raising standards in the field of health and agri-food sector and their regulation, 3) assistance in creating favorable conditions for cross-border transport, 4) assistance in the development of systems for assessing and monitoring the dynamics of integration.

Enhanced Dialogue Tool for interaction between the EU and ASEAN (Enhanced ASEAN Regional Integration Support from EU - E-READI) another important program that promotes the development of integration through the exchange of knowledge and experience in areas of common interest. The duration of the program is 8 years from 2016 to 2024. In addition to facilitating the dialogue of political figures of the participating countries of these organizations, the program aims to develop a dialogue with civil society, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders in various policy areas. The program provides organizational and logistical support for official meetings within the framework of the EU-ASEAN dialogue. Also, as part of the implementation of the program, experts can prepare research and analysis on issues of interaction.

In the field of education, an initiative called EU Support to Higher Education in ASEAN Region EU SHARE is successfully functioning. The program is designed for the period from 2014 to 2019, but later it was extended until 2022. The main goal of this project is to strengthen regional cooperation, improve the quality, competitiveness and internationalization of higher education in the ASEAN countries. The program is based on 6 main goals: 1) support for ASEAN in creating a strong and more competitive educational environment, 2) reduction in the level of development among ASEAN countries, in particular Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, 3) introduction of European experience in education (Bologna Process, European Higher Educational Area, Erasmus and ECTS), 4) creation of an interaction platform "policy-university-students" on the basis of regional higher education institutions, 5) promoting the development of competitiveness of all ASEAN member countries, 6) supporting the strengthening of identity in ASEAN countries among future generations of graduates of higher education institutions through regional mobility.

It is important to note that the EUASEAN cooperation has become the basis for the formation of the Asia-Europe Global Forum (ASEM) [29]. ASEM is an open informal dialogue in which the participating countries interact in the field of politics, financial, economic and socio-cultural spheres. Meetings of heads of State and Government are held every two years alternately in Asian and European countries. In addition, ASEM ministers and senior officials also meet as part of industry dialogues. The creation of ASEM is viewed from various points of view, so, for example, realists tend to talk about it in the context of the balance of power. They believe that the emergence of the Forum, namely the participation of the EU in it, is directly related to global changes in the world economy and the balance in the global triad of the EU-Asia-USA [35]. For Europe, the inclusion of such successful economies as China, Japan and South Korea in the dialogue was very attractive, in addition, Europe's desire to create such an association was motivated by a prolonged economic downturn and the risk of economic and political isolation [34]. And for the ASEAN countries, participation in the Forum was a serious chance to express their interests on a more global scale. Thus, ASEM became a tool to balance the changing geopolitical situation. The initial ASEM partnership in 1996 consisted of 15 EU member States, 7 ASEAN member States, China, Japan, Korea and the European Commission. Today, ASEM has 53 partners: 30 European and 21 Asian countries, the European Union and the ASEAN Secretariat. The ASEM working Body consists of regular meetings of senior officials, and the coordinators from the European and Asian groups direct the activities of ASEM. To implement projects in the humanitarian and cultural spheres, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) was established, which is a permanent body of the association. An important part of the cooperation is the Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership (ASEP), whose meetings are held in the format of plenary sessions and round tables according to the agenda. It should be noted that the ASEANEU interaction through the Asia-Europe Forum should be regarded as a network transregionalism in which the European Union and ASEAN are the structural elements [29]. The interaction between the EU and ASEAN is an example of interregionalism, while cooperation within the framework of the AsiaEurope Forum is an example of transregionalism, since it includes a dialogue between the region and individual member countries of this organization.

Factors hindering the successful inter-regional cooperation of the EU in Southeast AsiaDespite the active interaction and cooperation between the EU and ASEAN for a number of political and economic reasons, the parties failed to create a common free trade area, nevertheless, these attempts mean the desire of the blocs to seek sources of development and growth, as well as the desire of the EU to strengthen its position and act as a link in the global economic triad North America, Europe, East Asia.

There are a number of obstacles on the way to more successful cooperation, which will be discussed below.

1. The presence of bilateral contradictionsThe Southeast Asian countries have long moved to close economic integration within the framework of ASEAN and have developed a dense network of trade agreements with third countries and regions.

For the European Union, ASEAN is the third largest trading partner outside Europe after the United States and China. In 2006, the European Commission identified ASEAN as a priority region for building closer economic ties, and negotiations on an interregional trade agreement with ASEAN began in 2007 [38]. However, in 2009 they had to be suspended and the way to build bilateral trade relations was chosen, which in turn should become a springboard for a future interregional agreement. Accordingly, at the moment, the two blocs are not able to fully create a single free trade zone due to fundamental differences in the levels of economic development of the countries, different views on democratic principles and the protection of human rights [25]. To date, the EU has successfully completed negotiations on the establishment of a free trade area with two ASEAN member countries, Singapore and Vietnam, although in the case of these countries, negotiations were not unhindered.

Singapore. The Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Singapore (EUSFTA) is the first agreement of this format between the EU and an ASEAN country. It is aimed at removing a large number of customs duties; increasing trade in electronics, food and pharmaceuticals; stimulating "green growth", removing obstacles to trade in green technologies and environmental services; encouraging leading European companies to invest in Singapore and vice versa [24]. The EU-Singapore EUSFTA dialogue began in 2009 and was completed by 2012. It was also decided to create a separate Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA), negotiations on which ended in 2014. Both documents were signed in October 2018 and approved by the European Parliament in February 2019, and a free trade area between the EU and Singapore was established in November of the same year. However, at the moment the agreement must be ratified by all EU members at the national level. In 14 countries it has not yet been ratified, among them Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia. The EU is Singapore's third largest commodity trading partner, while Singapore is the EU's largest trading partner in ASEAN countries. In 2018, bilateral trade in goods exceeded 114 billion US dollars, including 49 billion US dollars of Singapore's exports to the EU and 65 billion US dollars of Singapore's imports from the EU. Trade in services in 2017 exceeded 79 billion US dollars, including 39 billion US dollars of Singapore's exports to the EU and more than 40 billion US dollars of Singapore's imports from the EU. In addition, the EU is the largest foreign investor in Singapore, accounting for more than $376 billion of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Singapore in 2017. The steady inflow of FDI from the EU has also made Singapore the largest EU investment destination in ASEAN and the second largest in Asia [33]. The strategic advantages for the two blocs include building closer economic relations, creating open trade, assisting in solving problems related to globalization (environmental protection, combating climate change, ensuring access to reliable energy sources), as well as strengthening the EU-Southeast Asia relationship [26].

The case of the creation of a free trade area between the EU and Singapore is an example of a "quasi- or hybrid interregional agreement" [13]. The development of separate free trade zones with ASEAN member states indicates that various types of inter-regionalism are intertwined in the EU-ASEAN relations, which are all interconnected. The first FTA agreement within the framework of EU-ASEAN cooperation is also the regulatory framework for all subsequent transactions.

Vietnam . Vietnam has become the second country with which the EU has concluded a free trade agreement (EVFTA), as well as the EU's second largest trading partner in ASEAN after Singapore, with a volume of trade in goods at the level of almost 50 billion euros per year. The main EU imports from Vietnam include telecommunications equipment, clothing and food. The EU mainly exports transport equipment and agricultural products to Vietnam [41]. In June 2019, the EU and Vietnam signed a trade agreement and an investment protection agreement, and in August 2020 they entered into force. At the moment, the agreement is awaiting ratification by 15 EU countries: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia.

Negotiations on the creation of a free trade zone with Vietnam began in 2012 and went on for 8 years during which the parties faced various obstacles. The main problem was the criticism of the Vietnamese regime for non-observance of human rights. This is also due to the fact that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state where political dissent is brutally suppressed and the issue of workers' rights is particularly acute. Working conditions are poor, access to social protection is limited, and especially migrant workers often find themselves in a situation of forced labor [28]. In 2016-2018, the European Parliament adopted separate resolutions on Vietnam, expressing its concern about the large number of human rights violations committed by its Government.In addition, some Vietnamese and international non-governmental organizations have written letters to the European Parliament asking them to postpone the signing of the free trade agreement until the Vietnamese Government fulfills human rights benchmarks. Later, the European Parliament stated that the provisions of the agreement are "strict, legally binding and enforceable" with respect to labor rights and that both sides guarantee their protection [22]. Despite his previous position, on February 12, 2020, he agreed to conclude a deal on the FTA and on August 1 of the same year, the agreement entered into force. In the text of the agreement, provisions concerning social and environmental development can be found in Chapter 13 "Trade and Sustainable Development" ("TSD Chapter"). The provision on "Multilateral Labor Standards and Agreements" is of particular interest, since it emphasizes the commitment of both parties to fundamental rights at work in accordance with the obligations arising from their participation in the International Labor Organization ("ILO") [14]. Also, this chapter of the agreement provides for the obligation of both sides to make constant efforts to ratify the main ILO conventions, which Vietnam subsequently tried to ratify. Pressure from the EU, combined with internal problems in the country, made it possible for reformists to promote labor reforms, however, their implementation remains difficult [30].

Indonesia . Negotiations on the EU-Indonesia Free Trade Area were launched in July 2016 and are still underway. From November 8 to 12, 2021, the 11th round was held in the video conference format, and the 12th round is scheduled for October 28-29, 2022. The purpose of the future agreement is to create an FTA that facilitates trade and investment and covers a wide range of issues, including tariffs, non-tariff barriers to trade, trade in services and investment, trade aspects of public procurement, competition rules, intellectual property rights, as well as sustainable development. The EU is Indonesia's fifth largest trading partner, while Indonesia is the EU's 31st global trading partner and the EU's fifth partner in ASEAN in 2020 [22]. Discussions are progressing quite successfully on the main issues: technical barriers to trade, liberalization of trade in goods, competition and antimonopoly legislation. However, Indonesia faces the problem of sustainable palm oil production, which slows down the conclusion of a FTA deal. Since the country is considered the world's largest producer and exporter of palm oil, the palm oil production sector is not only one of the most important economic spheres in the country, but also plays an important role in its trade relations with the EU. Palm oil is considered the most popular and best-selling vegetable fat in the world and is used in various fields of activity, starting with food, ending with household chemicals and cosmetics, respectively, producing it in large there is a problem of forest disappearance. In this regard, in March 2020, Indonesia requested the Dispute Settlement Body to establish a working group to consider this issue, which was established in June 2020 [21]. On June 22, 2022, the second meeting of the joint palm oil working group between the European Union and the relevant ASEAN member States was held online, at which participants discussed sustainability criteria in the field of palm oil production, law enforcement procedures, certification processes, as well as monitoring and ensuring compliance with certification standards.The participants agreed that sustainability criteria should be based on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, as well as take into account the Paris Agreement [37].

Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. In Thailand, bilateral negotiations on the creation of a free trade zone were launched in March 2013 and lasted until April 2014, and then were suspended due to a military coup in the country. At the same time, the conclusion of the Council of Europe on the deal with Thailand published in 2019 emphasizes the intention of resuming negotiations, but it is also important for the European Union to make sure that Thailand shares its views and the level of ambitions of the future deal [32].

The dialogue on trade and investment deals with Malaysia was launched in 2010, but after 7 rounds of negotiations in April 2012, it was also suspended at the request of Malaysia. The EU is Malaysia's fifth largest trading partner (after China, Singapore, South Korea and the United States). In 2020, Malaysia became the 20th largest trading partner of the EU in goods [20]. At the moment, no official position on the resumption of negotiations has yet been adopted. One of the problems of restoring the dialogue is the non-ecological and unsustainable production of palm oil, since the country is the second largest producer and supplier of palm oil after Indonesia. At a meeting of the European Parliament's International Trade Committee (INTA) in February 2020, former Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said that if sustainability issues, especially in palm oil production, are not resolved, negotiations on an agreement with Indonesia will not be completed, and negotiations with Malaysia will not be resumed [39].

The dialogue with the Philippines began in December 2015, since then two rounds of negotiations have been held in 2016-2017, but a new date is not yet known, since their continuation depends on the political situation in the country. The European Parliament is seriously concerned about the violation of human rights, nevertheless refutes the information that the negotiations were suspended [19]. Since 2016, with the coming to power of Rodrigo Duterte, the war on drugs began. According to Western media, the police and the "people's squads" are actively using extrajudicial executions against alleged drug traffickers. The actions of the Philippine authorities have caused harsh criticism of the UN, the United States and the European Union for human rights violations [8].

Myanmar . Myanmar occupies a controversial place in the EU's foreign policy. The volume of trade relations is quite small compared to the rest of the ASEAN countries, for 2021 it amounted to 2.6 billion euros [40]. Until 2006, sanctions were imposed on Myanmar by the European Union against the military authorities, then after the Democratic Party came to power, the economic part of the sanctions was lifted. In 2014, the EU and Myanmar began negotiations on an investment protection agreement. Four rounds of negotiations were held, but they were suspended in 2017. In relations with Myanmar, the main obstacle is the constant violation of human rights, namely the persecution of the Rohingya people. After the aggravation of the situation in 2017-2018, new sanctions were imposed by the EU and a request for an independent investigation. In February 2021, a military coup took place in Myanmar, which was caused by the military's disagreement with the results of the parliamentary elections in November 2020. The coup was condemned by both ASEAN and the European Union. During the summits and official meetings of the EU and ASEAN countries, the topic of the coup in Myanmar was repeatedly touched upon, where the EU expressed its concern about the situation, advocating for the restoration of the government elected in the 2020 elections and speaking with the rhetoric of restoring democracy and respect for human rights.

2. Competition with the USA and ChinaIn the Asian direction, the EU's main competitors in establishing cooperation with ASEAN are the United States and China, especially China, given its economic growth and geographical location.

The main partnerships competing for influence in the Asian region can be called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership), the Chinese Initiative "One Belt and One Road", as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RVEP, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). The EU's competition with such strong trans-regional groupings makes it difficult to build successful inter-regional relations with Southeast Asian countries.

When creating the TPP, the participants proclaimed the main goal to ensure more liberal terms of trade in the region than the WTO rules and existing ZTS provide. Nevertheless, the accompanying goal of the project was the desire of the United States to resist the growing influence of China, maintain control over the Pacific zone and restore its position in Asia. Negotiations on the TPP officially began in November 2012 and 7 years later, on February 6, 2016, the initial agreement on the TPP in New Zealand was concluded. Representatives of 12 States, namely Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, USA, Chile and Japan signed this document. However, after taking office as president, Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the TPP. As a result, the remaining 11 states in May 2019 signed a new document on the creation of a free trade zone - a Comprehensive and progressive agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership [1]. At the moment, the new US President Joe Biden is not dealing with the issue of returning to the partnership and is primarily aimed at restoring the US economy. However, there is an opinion among experts that the return of the United States to the TPP is more than possible, and will help America solve two problems at once: restore its leadership in the region and more effectively resist China's economic expansion.

The RVEP project is China's alternative response to the TPP and fully meets the priorities of China's foreign economic policy. The main drivers of the partnership are ASEAN and China, and the main directions generally coincide with the TPP, and the basic principles used are those that are applied in ASEAN and its existing FTA agreements with third countries [11]. Negotiations on the creation of the RVEP began in 2012 and the agreement was signed in November 2020. The RVEP united 10 ASEAN countries, as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The US and the EU are not participating in the project, thus it is assumed that the RVEP will help China strengthen relations with Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, providing the world's second largest economy with levers to form trade rules in the region.

Along with the TPP and the RVEP, attention should be paid to another trans-regional initiative of China - "One Belt and One Road", within which the projects of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "Maritime Silk Road of the XXI Century" are combined. Among the goals of these initiatives are the creation of uncontrolled energy and transport routes, the improvement of relations with neighboring countries, the removal of concerns about the strengthening of China in the military-political and economic spheres, the creation of a positive regional environment. To date, the projects are considered the most ambitious, the implementation of which will lead to a significant increase in interconnectedness throughout the trans-regional space, primarily Asia and Eurasia, and the expansion of China's presence [3].

As an example of the influence on internal processes in ASEAN, one can cite the Chinese Digital Silk Road program [16], which helps China to broadcast its vision using technology. China is a major leading exporter of communication technologies today and through this program, well-known Chinese technology companies are widely promoting and implementing new-generation 5G networks, intelligent surveillance systems, telecommunications systems, cloud computing, data centers, e-commerce, mobile payment systems, smart city systems and many other high-tech tools [12]. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic led to an increase in demand for digital technologies, when within a few months companies were forced to accelerate the digitalization process by three to four years, while the digital product portfolio was accelerated to seven years [31]. For Southeast Asian countries, such a Chinese initiative can become a vulnerability factor not only in the economy, but also in politics. China's digital giants, such as Huawei, ZTE, Alibaba, are laying fiber optic cables in Indonesia and the Philippines, and are deploying 5G networks in a number of countries [2].

Conclusions:

In recent years, many steps have been taken to establish a negotiation process with the ASEAN countries regarding the trade partnership. FTA deals have already been successfully concluded with some countries, while dialogue with others has been suspended due to economic, political and environmental reasons. Negotiations on the creation of a single EU-ASEAN free trade area began in 2007, but due to a large number of contradictions, it was decided to conclude FTA deals with individual countries of the Asian regional organization. At the moment, the chance that the EU-ASEAN FTA will be established in the near future seems unlikely. However, if the ASEAN countries raise their production standards, resolve political problems and increase human rights monitoring, perhaps this project will eventually be implemented. The fact that agreements have already been signed with two separate ASEAN countries (Singapore and Vietnam) may become the basis for a future inter-regional agreement.

In addition, a serious obstacle to the implementation of the EU's inter-regional policy in the Asian region is the huge influence of such global players as China and the United States in Southeast Asia. Both states are putting pressure on the ASEAN countries in order to attract them to their side. Among the elites of the leading ASEAN countries, the opinion has become established that China is the main economic partner, and the United States is the pillar of their security. Successful bilateral partnerships with individual countries, as well as large-scale trans-regional projects, complicate the EU-ASEAN dialogue. In particular, China is not only a trading partner, but also a strategic partner, historically exerting great influence on neighboring countries. Consequently, in such a competitive environment of the EU, it seems quite difficult to implement inter-regional cooperation with ASEAN.



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