Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo courtesy of Italian embassy in Việt Nam
Luigi Di Maio*
In September the 53rd ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting officially granted Italy the status of Development Partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It is a significant achievement for Italy’s foreign policy in Asia, paving the way for closer cooperation between Rome and the 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, year after year, our ties have grown in many fields. Several Italian artists, physicians, engineers and designers visited and worked in South-East 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 the 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. Right 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 South-East Asia. We can all see the value in having a group of countries, which 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 the ASEAN countries 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 very soon 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. 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 rebuild global supply chains and to create more opportunities for small and medium enterprises within them.
A natural complementarity among our economies will drive us towards these goals. Italy is the second biggest manufacturing power in Europe. Our companies owns cutting-edge technologies and expertise in many sectors, where they are undisputed leaders in the world. I wish to mention, among others, green-tech and energy efficiency. Mastering these technologies will be key in the 21st century and essential to fulfill the ambitious targets set by the UN 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.
For all these noble reasons, we have to support each other. We have to strengthen cooperation between EU and ASEAN, being both highly integrated, innovative and dynamic regional blocs committed to defending fair trade and level playing field.
Only by sticking together, we can 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 straightforward step in the right direction.