Norway has appointed a dedicated ambassador to ASEAN. We talk to Morten Høglund in Jakarta.
A few months into the job, H.E. Ambassador Morten Høglund finds time to speak to us. The first-time ambassador is also the first dedicated Norwegian Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Bigger economies like Canada and the United States had dedicated ambassadors to ASEAN before and so did the European Union (EU), but no individual EU country.
The new ambassador has an extensive list of ambitions in a broad range of areas. Included are peace and reconciliation, maritime cooperation, energy, connectivity, trade, private sector development, climate change, education and culture to name a few.
Luckily, Mr Høglund has extensive experience with ASEAN. As state secretary, he was responsible for setting up the partnership with ASEAN in 2015. Before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Høglund was a member of the Norwegian Parliament for 12 years.
Of course, every one of the ten ASEAN countries already has a Norwegian ambassador so why the need for an additional ambassador? “It’s very important to talk with a body that sets the long-term goals, the direction all of the ten countries strive towards. It is quite rational to seek a common set of understanding and agreement with all these ten countries,” says Mr Høglund.
During the last 50 years, there hasn’t been an interstate war since ASEAN was established. According to Mr Høglund, that’s pretty astonishing. “It is quite difficult to imagine a more diverse group of countries from communist states to democracies, authoritarian states and kingdoms. With that as a background one can be impressed.”
There are irregularities along the Southern Thai border, in Marawi in the Philippines and Myanmar, but no interstate wars. “We want to share our knowledge and experience for example on peace building,” Mr Høglund shares. “That being said, we’ve never denied we have a business interest in a stable region. Asia is the growth engine of the world. China’s growth is flattening a bit and Europe is still growing, but not with 5 to 7% like some countries here.”
Mr Høglund’s priorities for the upcoming years are energy, education, business, peace and oceans meaning maritime, aquaculture and cleaning up of the oceans. “The list might sound ambitious and it is, but some can be combined like maritime and education in an educational project in fishery in Vietnam,” Mr Høglund explains. At the moment more than 20 projects are in the pipeline.
An example of the knowledge Mr Høglund wants to share with ASEAN are the lessons learned from the successful peace process in Colombia. The activities in the area of peace are not limited to peace processes, but also deradicalisation and prevention of radicalisation.
“Stability of ASEAN is important for Norway and Europe, so we combat the growth of fundamentalism in the region. Prevention is now a global concern, that’s why we partner up with ASEAN in this issue.”
Marawi, for example, saw an influx of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, but