France has taken the first step to becoming the first European Union (EU) member state eager to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) with Asean.
Non-Asean members that are signatories to the TAC – a precondition for a nation to join the newly inaugurated East Asia Summit – currently include: Australia,India, China, Japan and New Zealand. Signatories must commit to using non-violent means to settle disputes in the region.
French budget minister Jean-Francois Cope presented a letter from President Jacques Chirac confirming France's wish to accede to Asean’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation during a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on March 13.
France’s decision to commit to Asean’s TAC was first mooted during French President Jacques Chirac’s visit to Thailand on February 18, where both countries agreed to strengthen bilateral ties in economics, public health, tourism and national defence. As Thai Prime Minister's Office Spokesperson Surapong Suebwonglee indicated, President Chirac “wanted Thailand to be France's special partner in opening the door for trade to the Asean region,” while the Thai Prime Minister wantedFrance in turn to be “the door for Thai trade to Europe.”
The impetus for France’s foray into political-economic tie-ups with Asean comes from rising economic dominance of Asia’s two industrial giants, China and India. In an interview with AFP, Mr Cope referred to the development of China and India as "an opportunity and a challenge" for both the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and for Europe.
“Only 10 percent of Europe's foreign trade is with Asia, but half of that is with Singapore. Still, he avers, “trade between Asia and Europe grew nearly 50 percent between 2000 and 2004, boosted by Japan as well as China and India.”
Elsewhere, he opined that "what defines Asia today is not so much advantageous labour costs as the enhanced quality of means of production.”
While France seems eager to jump on the bandwagon of riding on the waves of China and India using Asean as a possible surfboard, the implications of French move on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU remained at best unclear, and at worst, indication of the unraveling of a common policy towards Asean.
Thailand, France agree to enhance cooperation (Thai News Service, 22 February 2006)
French and Thai leaders agree to use each country as gateways into ASEAN and Europe respectively (Thai News Service, 22 February 2006)
Europe must step up cooperation with Southeast Asia: French minister (AFP, 13 March 2006)
France seeks S’pore support to join Asean pact (15 March 2006)