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Published on August 7, 2013
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the ASEAN headquarters

Jakarta, August 2, 2013



Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to meet you here at the ASEAN headquarters. It seems to me that this is the first time a member of the French government has visited this place, which is symbolic of a peaceful, prosperous Asia. I wanted to be with you today to show the major importance of ASEAN and its constituent countries for France.


South-East Asia is a region of the world with which France has very long-standing historic ties. The first contacts date back to the 16th century with the first French sailors – Normans, to be precise, which is important for me as an elected representative of Normandy – who reached the shores of Sumatra. They include Pierre Caunay from Honfleur in 1527 and then the Parmentier brothers in 1529. It was then under the reign of Louis XIV that official relations truly began with respective embassies – Siamese at the Court of Louis XIV and French at the Court of Ayutthaya – which were established successively during the 1680s. The Siamese Embassy made such a great impression that it inspired a work by an author, Charles Dufresnoy, himself a source of inspiration for Montesquieu’s famous Persian Letters. The Siamese Embassy was so remarkable, when it landed in Brest, that the main street is still called Rue de Siam.

Since then, human exchanges have become a reality. The relationship between France and South-East Asia has not been without its conflicts. We are all aware of the suffering of the colonial period. I am not ignoring this, but I want above all to focus on the unbreakable human, cultural and affective ties that we have forged. Three ASEAN member countries – Cambodia; Laos; and Vietnam, which I will be visiting tomorrow – are members of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, and a fourth country, Thailand, is an observer. The diasporas of the different countries living in France are numerous and very well integrated, with famous personalities like the singer of Indonesian origin, Anggun, film-makers and many entrepreneurs and doctors.

I must confess that these ties can be seen in everyday life, including through gastronomy: spring rolls are now part of French heritage in the same way as bread is part of Vietnamese culture. For those who are interested in arts and literature, I will add that when the great French author Antonin Artaud launched his enterprise to rebuild the foundations of modern French theatre, he took his inspiration from the Java, Bali and Khmer theatres.


Beyond these human ties, we have convergent visions of the world that also bring closer together France and Europe on the one hand and ASEAN on the other. Like Europe, ASEAN represents a project, the – successful – enterprise of building an area of peace, cooperation and prosperity. Like Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, ASEAN played a decisive stabilizing role, offering the countries of former Indochina and Burma, torn apart by decades of conflict, the prospect of a better future through regional integration.

I know that the experience of the European Union has been a source of inspiration for the countries of South-East Asia, even if you have followed your own path. Conversely, we see reason for hope in the way you faced up to the Asian crisis of the late 1990s. I remember that many observers judged at that time – too soon – that ASEAN was “finished”. You overcame this test and continued along the avenue of integration, adopting a charter in 2008 and planning to create, from 2015, a political, economic and cultural “community”. Similarly, the EU, which has experienced a crisis, is currently recovering. The end of the recession is in sight, even if not everything has been settled. We managed to work together to overcome the crisis and we are now working on a project to create a more integrated EU. I am convinced that, like ASEAN 15 years ago in another context, the EU will come out of this test stronger.

Another aspect of our shared world view can be seen in our common commitment to a multipolar world. The world was bipolar with the domination of the United States and the USSR. It was then, for a short time, unipolar, dominated by the United States. In the future, we all want it to become multipolar, with regulated multipolarity. For the moment, in my view, it is zeropolar. And this is why the United Nations is paralysed and we are unable to settle major conflicts, such as the current conflict in Syria.

To move beyond this zeropolar world, we do not want to reconstitute a bipolar relationship in the form of a Chinese-American G2. And neither the United States nor China desires that. For Europe and the countries of South-East Asia, that would mean a loss of strategic independence, or even, in the worst-case scenario, an obligation to choose.

What draws us together, ASEAN, Europe and France, is the determination to build a genuine, organized multipolar world, in which the EU and ASEAN play a stabilizing role. ASEAN has more than 600 million inhabitants – one-tenth of the global population – and relies on remarkable economic dynamism. The EU, with its 500 million inhabitants, is the world’s leading commercial power. Taken separately, these two poles count for a lot. United, our influence will be decisive!


Secretary-General, Ladies and gentlemen,

A lot is said about the US “pivot” to Asia. I don’t know if it’s the right term. In any case, France, too, has undertaken a “pivot”. Not to follow the crowd but because France wants to be present where tomorrow’s world is built. The Asia-Pacific will clearly be central to the 21st century. And also because France itself is part of the Asia-Oceania space, through its history, the fact that at least one million French people have Asian origins, and through its Pacific territories, where more than half a million of my fellow citizens live.

This French “pivot” is not, unlike perhaps the American one, primarily military, although France is present in the region. We have forces stationed in our Pacific territories whose active contribution to regional stability is unanimously recognized. We participate in the international effort in Afghanistan and we have undertaken significant defence cooperation projects with the major regional countries, including our ASEAN partners.

Our “pivot” is more diplomatic. The new French government has made developing our ties with the whole of Asia a priority. This is demonstrated for example by the four visits to the region by French President Hollande since his election, to Laos for the ASEM summit, and then to India, China and Japan. We have added to his agenda a visit, I hope in the not-too-distant future, to this beautiful country of Indonesia. This priority concerns the whole of Asia and does not boil down, as may have been the case at certain times, to dialogue only with the giants of the area: China and India. Our strategic partnerships with these two countries are naturally of prime importance and I will say a few words about them.

Given its rapidly increasing GDP, given that it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, given that it is a key country for the resolution of international crises and for seeking solutions to global challenges, China is an essential partner for France. This is why the French President, the first Western head of state received in China by the new authorities, last April, marked his commitment to deepening the Franco-Chinese strategic partnership in every field. And for my part, having been appointed to the position I hold a year ago, this year’s visit to our Chinese friends will be my fourth.

With India, the world’s largest democracy, our relationship is exceptional in the degree of confidence that underpins it and its level of ambition. Our two countries have established a very close strategic partnership in the fields of defence, counter-terrorism, civil nuclear energy and space. The strong political determination to take this relationship even further was confirmed by India and France during the French President’s visit in February.

Our ambition is to strengthen our ties with these two immense countries and develop in parallel our ties with the whole area. I am thinking in particular of Japan, which is a historic partner with which, during the French President’s visit in June, we agreed to implement an exceptional partnership, adopting a five-year roadmap. I am also thinking of the Republic of Korea, whose economic, cultural and diplomatic dynamism is impressive, as well as Mongolia, even if it does not immediately spring to mind, which I will visit soon, and of course, at the top of the list, ASEAN and its member states.

I recognize that France was not sufficiently present in South-East Asia in the past. It is from this point of view significant that I am the first French Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Indonesia in 17 years. Things have changed now: over the last year, very high-level exchanges have taken place with all ASEAN countries. The visit of the French President to Vientiane was a signal of this priority. Similarly, the French Prime Minister has already made three visits to five different ASEAN countries since his appointment! Days ago he was in Malaysia. There is political will in France to step up its relations with ASEAN and its member states.

Within ASEAN, Indonesia, which represents 40% of the population and GDP of ASEAN, is a major emerging country and great democracy. It is naturally a leading partner. I welcome the growing and constructive engagement of Indonesia on the regional stage and increasingly on the international stage. It is a major contributor to peacekeeping operations – particularly within UNIFIL in Lebanon – as well as an active G20 member, a country strongly engaged in combating climate change, and an influential moderate Muslim country. Indonesia is proving that it is equal to its international responsibilities. Indonesia is a crucial partner for France. The relations between our two countries have not yet reached their full potential. We signed a strategic partnership in 2011; it now needs to be implemented in every field. That is one of my priorities. And I have also made a personal commitment: this morning, I laid the first stone of the new French Embassy in Jakarta; next year, I will have to come to inaugurate it.


This diplomatic “pivot” is also economic. Hosting one-fifth of French businesses present abroad, Asia is France’s second-largest partner region. This part of the world, where more than half the growth of our exports has been achieved in recent years and which will concentrate close to 50% of global growth for the 2012-2017 period, will naturally be increasingly involved in the strategy of French businesses. The scale of the exchanges with South-East Asia, where 1,500 French companies are present, is noteworthy in this respect: the amount of French exports to ASEAN is comparable with exports to China, and the current account is almost balanced, whereas there is a deficit of €27 billion with China. Amongst the 47 priority countries for French exports, there are six South-East Asian countries: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The increased economic integration of the region, the prospect of free trade agreements between the European Union and the major Asian countries, and the ongoing internationalization of the yuan - all this is helping strengthen this economic dynamic of France and Europe towards Asia.


I have talked about the diplomatic pivot and the economic pivot, but this “pivot” is also human. The French have no doubt never looked so much to Asia as today. The French communities in Asia are the fastest-growing worldwide. The 120,000 French people living in Asia already represent more than 7% of the French population abroad. There are now close to 50,000 French people in China alone. French students are flocking to your universities. In France – and this is not widely enough known – young people are passionate about Asian, Japanese and Korean culture. Learning of Chinese and other Asian languages is growing rapidly and Japanese is the second most translated language into French, behind English. Thai and Philippine film is meeting growing interest. And regarding this magnificent country, Indonesia, it makes people – not just the young, but also the less young – dream. Asian students, particularly from China but also Korea and Vietnam, now number close to 50,000, making an appreciable contribution to their host universities. Just this morning, I was talking about this with the French Ambassador. We host close to 500 Indonesian grant students each year. Asian tourism is booming: close to four million visitors come from this part of the world each year, and quite a few French tourists also come here! We hope for even more.


Secretary-General, ladies and gentlemen,

That’s all for the past, the present state of affairs, and for our will. We now need to move forward together and strengthen the partnership between France, Europe and ASEAN. We did of course discuss this before the meeting, Secretary-General, and I propose we focus on at least two major aspects:

1- First area for action: translate in concrete terms our common vision for a world of peace and cooperation. Conflicts are tearing apart some parts of the world, in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Tensions exist in your region, even though they are not comparable with those previous. They also concern us, as ASEAN is central to vital sea routes for our economic and strategic interests. This is the reason for the participation of the French Minister of Defence, M. Le Drian, in the last two sessions of the Shangri-La Dialogue. It is not for France to arbitrate on territorial disputes between regional countries, but we can help seek peaceful solutions in line with international law. Moreover, France is encouraging the adoption by ASEAN and China of a code of conduct for the South China Sea, as provided for by the 2002 Phnom Penh declaration.


As a permanent member of the Security Council, France has particular responsibilities in this field. It shoulders them when necessary, with determination, and in compliance with international law. It was in this spirit that, on another continent, we intervened at the beginning of the year in Mali, at the request of the country’s government and with UN authorization, to help it tackle the terrorist threat and re-establish its territorial integrity. We are also engaged in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a particularly acute subject on the Korean peninsula, and in securing vital supply routes for Asia through our active involvement in combating piracy in the Indian Ocean. We are also prepared to step up our cooperation with the Asian countries contributing to UN peacekeeping operations. In this respect I welcome the decision of Vietnam to send, starting next year, contingents of UN troops. You can all count on our support.

What I propose is to work together, drawing, for example, on what we did in the past to bring peace back to Indochina. It is a great source of pride for France to have co-chaired with Indonesia the Paris Conference which led to the October 1991 Cambodia Peace Agreements, restoring peace to Cambodia. In 2007, France was the first European country to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. I would like France to maintain this pioneering role in the implementation of cooperation for peace and security with ASEAN in the future. It was with this in mind that France expressed its desire to participate in the ADMM+ (ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting).


2- So our first contribution is to work together towards a world of peace and cooperation. The second area for action is to address global problems together and build a new global political, economic, social and environmental regulation. It is vital in particular to limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change. Asia, as we all know, represents a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps 45% in 2030. It is a region that is dramatically exposed to the consequences of climate change, as you all know, and it is a subject on which I would like to welcome the visionary commitment of President Yudhoyono. France has proposed to host what is called the COP 21, the global climate change conference, in Paris in 2015. I have said to the Secretary-General of ASEAN that I would like to work hand-in-hand with ASEAN to make this event a success.

Despite economic difficulties, France is maintaining a significant level of official development assistance to contribute to this sustainable development goal, particularly through the French Development Agency, whose priority mandate in Asia is to promote “green growth” and effective combating of climate change.

These sustainable development challenges are also and will remain opportunities for the development of economic relations between France and all ASEAN countries: public transport, “sustainable urban planning”, energy, food security, new technologies, etc. In all these priority fields for your region, French businesses have completely exceptional expertise that they are prepared to put to work to serve your projects.

Efforts are needed to develop these relations, from French companies, of course, but also from governments, who should improve market access and protection of intellectual property, as well as being particularly vigilant in ensuring that free trade can be practised, in accordance with the principle of reciprocity. On this basis, I hope we will be able to conclude ambitious agreements rapidly, as we have already done with Singapore.


Secretary-General, ladies and gentlemen,

In 1684, the first Siamese embassy in France was received in the Hall of Mirrors of the Château de Versailles by Louis XIV. The splendour deployed for this reception was equal to the message of welcome.

More than 300 years later, I too bring this message of welcome, I admit more modestly. I would like to present it to you on behalf of France. I invite you to follow in the footsteps of those Siamese ambassadors and to come in turn to France. And to begin with, Secretary-General, it is you that I have the pleasure to invite.

My message is for investors. Investment from ASEAN in France is still too low, apart from a few exceptions which are generally very successful. An investment in France is an investment in the world’s fifth-largest economy and the fourth most common destination for foreign investments, with 20,000 companies held by foreign investors. It also provides access to the whole Euro Area and – further afield – the dynamic markets of Africa and the Middle East. Asian investment is welcome in France, because it creates wealth and jobs on both sides. So do not hesitate.

It is also a message for students and researchers. There are not yet enough Southeast Asian students in France, even if their number is growing rapidly. We are working to facilitate procedures for you all to come to France, to improve reception conditions, and to develop programmes in English for any students who do not yet speak French. This message is for you. Don’t hesitate to come.

And lastly, this is a message to all citizens who wish to pay a visit to France and to the French who wish to come here. You are welcome. We are working to simplify and speed up visa procedures and develop tourism that meets the expectations of Asian tourists and to ensure their total safety, as we know this is essential.

The motto of Indonesia, which could also be that of ASEAN, is “Unity in Diversity” (“Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”). This motto, as you may know, is close to that of the European Union: “United in Diversity”. This determination to combine unity and diversity is one of the bases of our friendship and a very solid partnership between France, Europe and ASEAN.

This is why I am very pleased to say in French, and in English – sadly I do not speak the local language: long live Indonesia! Long live France! And, Secretary-General, long live ASEAN!./.

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