European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (Xinhua/Cristian Cristel/IANS). Image Source: IANS News

Brussels, Sep 28 : The European Union looks to Asia as a whole and not only to China to create transport, energy, telecommunications and cultural connections that are more sustainable and underpin the multilateral order, as demonstrated at the first international connectivity forum of the European Commission.

"One of the keys to success in connectivity is that it benefits everyone and develops common standards," EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said during the forum, which was the first dedicated to Asia, Efe news reported on Friday.

"Connectivity and interoperability are things that go together." The presence of Japan at the highest level in the conference, where it was represented by its prime minister Shinzo Abe, contrasted with the highest position sent by China, its deputy director general of Department of International Economic Affairs Guo Xuejun.

The forum "does not go against China," said community sources, asked about the strong presence on the panels of representatives from India, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, the Balkans and the United States, compared to the one sent by the Asian giant, to talk about key connections between the two continents and cooperation for their development in other areas of the world.

One of the key moments of the conference was the signing by Juncker and Abe of an agreement on "sustainable connectivity and quality infrastructure" between the EU and Japan.

According to the document, both parties will work together to cooperate in infrastructure in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Indian-Pacific region and Africa, without losing sight of the needs and demands of their partners, their fiscal capacity and debt sustainability.

The EU and Japan also committed to maintaining equal opportunities for investors and companies in connectivity and promoting "free, open, rules-based, fair, non-discriminatory and predictable business practices".

Juncker asked that the connections of the future be "sustainable from an ecological point of view" and added that "we must change the way we live, move," and that new transport networks, energy and digital infrastructures reduce carbon emissions.

He also urged them to be "financially sustainable" and not leave "mountains of debts," to bestow "more dependence on a single country", and finally called for these new connections sustainability from a social point of view.

"A world more connected, with more economic opportunities and among our peoples, with more solidarity, more protection for workers," he added.

"The EU is open to all countries, they are all welcome, none is excluded," he warned.

Some of the objectives of the forum were to identify investment opportunities and the challenges they entail, from aspects of multilateral governance to their extensive financing needs.

The importance of combining public support with private initiatives to which the participants alluded, as well as the interest of the EU in its standards and norms increasingly served as a model in interconnections.

The EU presented its connectivity strategy with Asia a year ago, a region which represents more than 60% of the global GDP and with which it adds about 1.5 billion euros in commercial exchanges.

The European group is interested in diversifying its trade and transport routes to shorten transit times and simplify customs procedures, achieve more interconnected energy platforms and greener solutions, and increase digital services while maintaining a high level of protection of consumer personal data.

The objective is also to cooperate more in education, research, innovation, tourism and culture, beyond the 18,000 students and academics who have moved between the two regions since 2015 thanks to various programs.

In order to achieve these objectives, the EC has planned specific items within the next multiannual budget (2021-2027, still to be approved) to support investments outside the EU.

In particular, the so-called foreign action guarantee will have 60 billion euros to guarantee operations of the European Sustainable Development Fund and macro-financial assistance programs to third countries.

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