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Op-ed by Hon. Luigi Di Maio, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy: Italian-ASEAN friendship takes a major step ahead (Vietnam Investment Review, 9.11.2020)

Italian-ASEAN friendship takes a major step ahead 

Last September, the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting officially granted Italy the status of ASEAN development partner. It is a significant achievement for Italy’s foreign policy in Asia, paving the way for closer cooperation between the European and ASEAN countries.

Our friendly relations date back a long time. Centuries ago, the first traders and explorers from Italy started sailing through the straits of Malacca along the routes of spices and silk. Since then, our ties have grown in many fields. Several Italian artists, physicians, engineers, and designers visited and worked in Southeast Asia. Their legacy is still visible today in many places of this beautiful part of the world. Their stories continue to inspire us and nurture an everlasting sense of friendship and respect for these nations. Today, Italy and ASEAN countries are engaged in upholding common values and the principles of independence, shared prosperity, and peaceful resolutions of disputes.

When I decided to advance the candidature of Italy as its development partner, ASEAN already had a good record of fostering cooperation among integrated regional blocs, including the European Union. This is consistent with our view of an ever-interconnected world, where we shall not abandon multilateralism and a cooperative approach in order to live up to current global challenges.

This is not just about growth and development. As the EU has done for more than 60 years in Europe, ASEAN contributes to regional and global security by promoting stability and prosperity in Southeast Asia. We can all see the value in having a group of countries that pool their resources to defend universal values such as freedom of navigation, conflict prevention by means of peaceful dispute settlement mechanisms, pluralism and tolerance.

Both Italy and ASEAN member states believe in the virtues of reciprocity and cooperation. Based on this, I am confident in the prospect for our new partnership to deliver good, sustainable, and long-term returns, including in the fight against COVID-19.

From the very beginning, the whole ASEAN community expressed solidarity with Italy at the peak of its emergency from March to May this year. As epidemic turned to pandemic, all our governments committed to join international efforts to counter it. Italy has been proactive and vocal in promoting the establishment of an international alliance for the vaccine against COVID-19.

We need to speed up scientific research on safe vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, and we must ensure their universal distribution.

Health is a global public good and as such, it will remain a major priority in the agenda of the upcoming Italian G20 Presidency. We count also on ASEAN support in order to achieve successful outcomes and get the global economy back on track soon.

I have no doubt that our partnership will help us overcome the economic and social impact of the pandemic as well. It will benefit our companies, fostering international trade and investment. It will contribute to rebuilding global supply chains and to create more opportunities for small- and medium-sized enterprises within them. A natural complement among our economies will drive us towards these goals. Italy is the second-biggest manufacturing power in Europe, and our companies own cutting-edge technologies and expertise in many sectors, where they are undisputed global leaders. I also must mention green-tech and energy efficiency. Mastering these technologies will be key in the 21st century and essential to fulfilling the ambitious targets set by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

For all these noble reasons, we have to support each other. We have to strengthen cooperation between the EU and ASEAN, being both highly integrated, innovative, and dynamic regional blocs committed to defending fair trade and a level playing field.

Only by sticking together can we overcome global challenges. I believe this is the most important lesson we have learned from the pandemic. The new development partnership between Italy and ASEAN is definitely a forward step in the right direction.