EU, the preacher, is in love with Asean yet again: Jakarta Post commentary


European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell. - AFP

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/ANN): The Group of Seven leaders often use sophisticated words such “multilateralism” and “science” to justify their political and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region with a single mission: To contain China and regain control of the rich territory.

But for ordinary Indonesians like me, the seven industrialised countries just do not have the guts and power to fight China satu lawan satu (one on one), so they keroyok (gang up on) China. And all their arguments are nothing more than silat lidah (bickering).

All the G7 leaders, including three European Union members and one ex-member, concluded their three-day summit in Cornwall, England, on Sunday (June 13).

They shared United States President Joe Biden’s multilateral strategy for facing China, which can take shape in joint efforts to find scientific evidence of China’s breach of fair trade, green development and other practices.

The richest democracies offer little sweeteners such as loans while at the same time frightening Indo-Pacific countries with the myth of the menacing Dragon that will swallow them.

The world’s most developed countries have built their image as a savior. In this context, the EU has openly expressed its interest in supporting the alliance of Quad (US, Japan, India and Australia).

The EU has particularly tried to seduce the 10-member Asean with flattering words and fascinating promises, such as mutually beneficial economic cooperation and security protection.

But the European countries still maintain the old illusion that they could unilaterally impose their own will.

But at least for a while, the EU has to control its addiction to preaching to other nations — especially weaker and poorer nations — on the values of human rights, good governance and equality.

The EU should learn from the US, which has lost its magic power and can no longer use its “stick and carrot” approach to force Asean to stand behind Washington in confronting China.

The EU cannot dictate to Asean anymore as it did in the past. Such changes were highly expected when EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell came to Jakarta on June 4.

In normal circumstances, an EU official would have talked loudly about Indonesia’s poor human rights track records, especially in Papua. But Borrell was on a mission to gather support from Asean for the EU to play a more strategic role in the Indo-Pacific theatre, which he described as the “centre of gravity” of the world in the 21st century.

During his trip to Jakarta, Borrell flattered Asean as “the heart” of the Indo-Pacific and specifically praised Indonesia as “one of the world’s largest democracies and economies”.

Borrell clearly put aside Indonesia’s frustration in dealing with the EU over palm oil, Indonesia’s top export commodity.

President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has openly accused the EU of waging a 'trade war' against Indonesia by discriminatively boycotting Indonesian palm oil, simply because EU’s sunflower oil cannot compete with Indonesian palm oil.

The President issued a strong warning shortly after Indonesia filed its complaint to the World Trade Organization against the EU’s revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II), which excludes the use of palm oil in the EU’s renewable fuel subsidy scheme.

“Indonesia has 13 million hectares of oil palm plantations that produce 46 million tonnes [of crude palm oil] annually. The EU has been saying that Indonesian palm oil is not environmentally friendly. This is essentially a trade war because Indonesian palm oil can be cheaper than their sunflower oil, ” the President tweeted in January last year.

Perhaps Borrell pretended not to know or played down the magnitude of Indonesia’s resentment of the EU when he met with President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.

Indonesia and the EU have held 10 rounds of negotiations under the Indonesia-EU Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (IEU-CEPA) since 2016, as the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, plans to phase out the use of palm oil in biofuels in 2030.

Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and together with Malaysia, they control 85 per cent of the global palm oil supply. Deforestation, child labour and so many other reasons are cited to justify the decision to ban palm oil.

I am neither a defender of palm oil nor a supporter of China. I am just asking why the EU does not apply the same arguments and scientific evidence to force China to bow to its own standard.

France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and, to a certain extent, the US and Canada can easily find reasons to prohibit or restrict palm oil. At the same time, the EU is toothless when dealing with China.

Late last year, the EU and China reached an agreement in principle nearly seven years after the launch of the EU-China bilateral Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) negotiations.

On May 20, however, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution to freeze ratification of the agreement in response to Chinese sanctions on European human rights advocates. Now, the EU, which is determined to punish Indonesia, is sending the message it needs Indonesia’s support to face China. Come on!

*** Senior editor of The Jakarta Post

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