By Ambassador (p) Gheorghe Savuica*
At the beginning of the year of 2023, the Europe-Asia interconnecting trends continued to stay under the limelight, especially provided the significant high-level visits favoring the bilateral dialogue between the European and EU leaders, on one hand, and leaders of Asian countries, on the other hand.
It the context of intensified Europe-Asia relations, given the strong and historical relations between Romania and Asian nations, Romania’s President visits in March 2023 to Japan and Singapore have confirmed Bucharest’s tendency to revive and further consolidate her bilateral relations with countries in Asia-Pacific and other regions.
Cotroceni’s current foreign policy trend debuted in 2022, when Romania offered the political signal with regard to its intention of deepening the cooperation with Asia. Voiced by the Romanian President, Klaus Iohannis, on the occasion of the Annual Meeting of Romanian Diplomacy in 2022, the country’s political decision to enhance its bilateral relations with her partners in Asia, and not only, has been mirrored by concrete actions in 2023.
According to the Romanian President, “the investment of new energy is needed to reconnect or keep close, as the case may be, Romania's friends and partners in the Middle East, the Gulf, Africa, the Indo-Pacific and Latin America. In the current moment of global crossroads, it is not geographical distances that matter, but the proximity of values and action in mutual support when needed.”
In the aftermath of her 1989 democratic breakthrough, Romania has channeled her utmost efforts towards deepening the integration within the European and Euro-Atlantic structures with an aim to safeguard her new democratic path, security and well-being of the Romanian people; it is against this backdrop that the bilateral relations with countries in other regions of the world have apparently developed at a different pace.
Despite nurturing her bilateral relations with Asian nations in a different pace compared to the previous era, in the light of her increasing engagement with the Euro-Atlantic structures, Romania has been continuously appreciated as a trustworthy partner by the countries in Asia. Moreover, the bilateral relations between Romania and the Asian countries have stayed free of direct political issues and continue to benefit from a decade-long or even centennial history and continuous developments. Likewise, the relations between Romania and the Asian states have maintained and developed at multilateral level as well, with a particularly strong cooperation at the UN, ASEM, ASEAN and other international formats.
It was under these circumstances that President Iohannis’ speech at the Annual Meeting of Romanian Diplomacy in 2022 signaled a new foreign policy trend as well as the return to a time-tested path of partnership, cooperation and friendship with countries in Asia. President‘s recent Asian tour to Japan and Singapore further stressed Romania’s determination to stay committed to the its statements regarding “the investment of new energy (...) to reconnect or keep close, as the case may be, Romania's friends and partners in the Middle East, the Gulf, Africa, the Indo-Pacific and Latin America.”
Reconfirming the signals sent by Cotroceni in 2022, following five years of negotiations and consultations, in 2023 Romania elevated its bilateral relations with Japan at the level of Strategic Partnership. During Romania’s President visit to Tokyo, Klaus Iohannis and Japan’s Premier, Fumio Kishida, have signed the Romania-Japan Strategic Partnership. According to the Romanian President, “It is important that we rely on each other to safeguard the fundamental values that define us – the will for peace and security, freedom, democracy and human rights, and a rule-based international order.”
In the same note, Hiroshi Ueda, Ambassador of Japan to Romania, commented that “Japan and Romania have strengthened their friendship, especially in recent years, based on shared values such as rule of law, democracy, respect for human rights, and open economy.” (see https://www.irsea.ro/en/Japan-Romania/ )
In Singapore, President Iohannis met the Singaporean President, Halimah Yacob, and the country’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. According to the Romanian Presidential Administration, the visit aimed “to boost bilateral relations, in accordance with their potential, especially in the economic-investment plan”, and included “the intensification of cooperation in the fields of IT, education, research, food security, connectivity, cyber security and high technologies, combating climate change and green transition.”
By the Romanian President’s second leg of the Asian tour in Singapore, one of the ASEAN founding members, one could expect new political developments to be taken by Bucharest so that ASEAN, as a whole, would become a NEW SOLID PIVOT in the foreign policy of Romania in Asia.As previously stressed, Romania is highly active in ASEM, EU-ASEAN relations, and attaches a great importance to the consolidation the direct bilateral relations with each and every one of all ten ASEAN member countries. Significant, high-level diplomatic interactions between Romanian and ASEAN diplomats, such as the recent call of the Romanian Ambassador to ASEAN, Dan Adrian Bălănescu, on the Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, showcase a marked interest toward the Southeast Asian regional association.
Certainly, the new impetus given to the Romania-Asia relations in 2023, does not mean Bucharest’s relations with her Asian friends have been previously lackluster. 2022, for instance, represented an excellent opportunity to further enhance the Romania-Republic of Korea relations. Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă paid an official visit to the Republic of Korea, alongside a parliamentary delegation led by the Speaker of the Deputies’ Chamber, Marcel Ciolacu. Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca met with his South Korean counterpart, Han Duck-soo, and the Speaker of the Deputies’ Chamber Marcel Ciolacu met the South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo. The senior officials from both countries discussed about the strategic partnership between Romania and the Republic of Korea.
The signals sent by Cotroceni have not been overlooked by Romania’s partners and friends in Asia. The reactions conveyed by the Ambassadors of Asian countries in Bucharest underscore the excellent development of the bilateral relations in the recent period as well as the commitment to further consolidate and even elevate them. One may comment that Bucharest’s new foreign policy trend in Asia is not only echoed, but highly appreciated.
Daud Ali, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Romania, commended the “re-opening in July 2020 of the Bangladesh Embassy in Romania” and stressed that the “year 2021 marked the fostering of bilateral relations with the Romania visit of Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at the invitation of his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu.” (see https://www.irsea.ro/Bangladesh-Romania-Relations/ )
Han Chunlin, Ambassador of China to Romania, showcased his intention to "work with the Romanian side to strengthen confidence, build consensus, and put every effort to build a sustained, stable and healthy bilateral relationship, and bring more benefits to the two countries and peoples" in the ambit of China-Romania Comprehensive Friendly and Cooperative Partnership. (see https://www.irsea.ro/China-Romania-Relations/ )
According to Rahul Shrivastava, Ambassador of India to Romania, “Prime Minister Modi had a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Ciucă in February last year. Our Minister of External Affairs had a bilateral meeting Foreign Minister Aurescu also in February 2022 in Munich. (...) Parliamentarians of India and Romania met online in June 2022.” (see https://www.irsea.ro/India-Romania/ )
Amhar Azeth, former Ambassador of Indonesia to Romania, stressed that “Indonesia and Romania have many opportunities for collaboration in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, renewable energy, military armament, and weaponry. By working together, these two countries can share knowledge and expertise, create new jobs, and accelerate economic growth.” (see https://www.irsea.ro/Indonesia-Romania/ )
Dr. Zafar Iqbal, Ambassador of Pakistan to Romania, also noted an “increasing frequency of exchange of visits at official level”. According to the Ambassador of Pakistan, “Last year, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan visited Romania, the first visit at the level of Foreign Minister in decades, and we are looking forward to a similar visit by the Foreign Minister of Romania to Pakistan. We can say that now we have a reopening in the direction of building a stronger bilateral engagement.” (see https://www.irsea.ro/Pakistan-Romania/ )
Do Duc Thanh, Ambassador of Vietnam to Romania, equally appreciated the “consolidated and flourished” bilateral traditional friendship between Romania and Vietnam as well as the “active role played by Romania, as the President of the European Union Council in 2019, in the signing and ratification of the Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA) between the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam and the European Union”. (see https://www.irsea.ro/Vietnam-Romania/ )
The above bilateral political demarches and extracts from the statements of several Asian Ambassadors in Bucharest showcase that Romania is invited to enter into a much more deeper engagement ofenhancing trade and economic cooperation with all countries from Asia-Pacific, were Romanian products and know-how are well-known and appreciated; at the same time the economic progress and the natural resources in the region are of a great value for the Romanian economy, expected to gain momentum.
One should not neglect the competition and great attention accorded to South, East and South East Asia by other countries friendly with Romania, yet serious economic competitors. At the same time it is necessary to understand that a non-active traditionalism is losing its importance as an asset that could be invoked in the case of reviving a possible temporary less active path of the development of the bilateral relations with countries in the Asian region.
The success of Romania’s consolidation of her relations with ASEAN member countries, as well as with other countries in Asia-Pacific, rests on the reopening and intensifying of the high level political contacts, which, as shown earlier, have been consistent, yet conducted at a different pace compared to the countries in the Euro-Atlantic region. In the light of the new signals sent by Bucharest, one may expect more energy to be injected – for instance – in Romania’s trade missions, reassuring the development of the excellent economic relations with the countries in the region. Former consistent and rich economic cooperation projects, such as the high voltage line and truck assembly line in Malaysia, refineries in India, cement factories in Pakistan, railway projects in Indonesia, could be followed up by new, engaging projects of mutual economic benefit.
The Romanian Diplomatic Missions in the capitals of Asian and ASEAN member countries are led by highly qualified Ambassadors and Head of the Missions. Dedicating further human resources and increasing the necessary diplomatic personnel of the Romanian missions is highly expected in order to reflect the great importance attached to the region in the light of the new foreign policy statements and actions supported by the Romanian President.
Besides underlining the enriching of the bilateral spectrumwith each Asian country, IRSEA continues to be an ardent supporter of developing as well direct bilateral cooperation linksbetween Romania and ASEAN as an institution. The first very important and useful step was done in time by concurrently accrediting her Ambassador in Jakarta to the ASEAN Secretariat. Such a desirable and possible development has to come as an additional dimension of the role of Romania within the active context of EU-ASEAN partnership. However, as a start, it is necessary to follow the ASEAN procedures, which require signing of the ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC).
Initially signed by the ASEAN member states in 1976, i.e. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines, TAC has grown a global dimension having been signed by non-ASEAN members such as Australia, Canada, China, European Union, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, South Korea and the United States, inter alia. The signatory parties are guided by the basic principles, also enlisted in the UN Charter, of mutual respect, sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity. The treaty promotes non-interference from external parties, peaceful settlement of differences or disputes and effective cooperation among members. Most recently signed by the Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba at the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in November 2022, the peace treaty commits the all parties to “mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity and national identity of all nations”.
Certainly in the light of the recent most complex geostrategic dynamics, it becomes a priority for all actors, be them European or Asian, to develop a pragmatic framework in which to cooperate in order to be able to navigate the complex issues arising at the level of both continents. The high-level state visits paid by European leaders in Asia and Asian leaders in Europe represent a vivid testimony in this direction.
Romania's bilateral relations with countries in Asia and direct bilateral relations with ASEAN are not only a significant part of the country's rich diplomatic history, but also a defining milestone in Romania's European identity.
* A career diplomat with over four decades of diplomatic service, a specialist on Southeast Asia andASEAN, speaker of Bahasa Indonesia, Russian and English, Ambassador (p) Gheorghe Savuica represented Romania as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Indonesia and Pakistan and Chief of Mission to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cyprus, Finland and Estonia.
Ambassador (p) Savuica is a former Director of the Asia Pacific Division and former Director General of the Asia Pacific, Near and Middle East, Africa and Latin America Department of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He published multiple articles, thought-pieces and commentaries reflecting his views on current evolutions in International Affairs and the ongoing developments related to the greater scope of Europe-Asia relations. He authored several major chapters in edited volumes on Romania’s Foreign Policy, published by the Romanian Academy.
In 2011, Ambassador (p) Savuica has received the "Grigore Gafencu" Award on behalf of the Academy of Romanian Scholars (Academia Oamenilor de Ştiinţă din România). His Excellency is also a lifetime member of the Society of Asian Civilisations, Islamabad, and Institute for Maritime and Strategic Studies, Jakarta. He is the receiver of the prestigious Excellence Award on behalf of the Faculty of International Business and Economics, Bucharest University of Economic Studies.
Ambassador Savuica has established the Romania - Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2008. He is also the President and Founder of the Romanian Institute for Europe-Asia Studies (IRSEA).
Ambassador (p) Savuica is a graduate of Moscow State Institute of International Relations. A former athlete, he received numerous national and regional accolades as handball player, skier and self-defence fighter. Ambassador Savuica is married and has two daughters, one granddaughter and one grandson.