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Gunnar Wiegand – contact between Brussels and Asia

Gunnar Wiegand of the European External Action Service

As Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific in the European External Action Service (EEAS), Gunnar Wiegand is responsible for EU relations with 41 countries, from Afghanistan to Fiji – and he has passed through exciting stations in his career. As a policy advisor, he was there when Spain joined the EU. As an associate of a political foundation, he has been involved in the support for the consolidation of new democracies in Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. In 1990, shortly before the German reunification, he began to work for the European Commission, first as a so-called GDR consultant, and later focused on the transformation processes in the former Soviet Union.

Before the start of the Covid pandemic, Gunnar Wiegand traveled to Asia twice a month on average. He maintains numerous professional and also some personal contacts in the region. His three sons enjoy traveling to Asia, and his wife was born in Lebanon, which is, after all, part of the Near East. At first glance, he doesn’t have much to do with China itself.

First post in Hong Kong under the last British governor

He did not study Chinese, but law and international relations in Italy and the USA. Mandarin is not one of the six languages he learned. And his first stations abroad did not take him to Hong Kong or Beijing, but to Latin America and Spain. “I’m not an expert on Asia, but on EU external relations, where it’s about bringing together EU foreign and security policy and member states with trade policy, development cooperation and sectoral policies of the European Commission,” he says.

China first appears on his CV in the late 1990s. At the time, he was a spokesman for European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten, who had previously served as the last British Empire governor of Hong Kong. “Patten was very well known in China, but he was an undesirable person at the time. I saw how popular he was in Hong Kong, on the other hand, when we made a trip there,” recalls Wiegand, who also traveled with him to India, Pakistan and Korea, among other places. Later, as Director at the European Commission, he was responsible for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and was, among other things, chief negotiator for the EU’s association agreements with Georgia and Moldova.

Leading the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy

He also negotiated the first “Association Agenda”, the document on the concrete implementation of the Association Agreement, between the EU and Ukraine. In 2016, he was given responsibility for Asia and the Pacific in the European External Action Service, where he negotiated the new Strategic Partnership Agreement with Japan in 2017, contributed significantly to the first EU-Asia connectivity strategy in 2018, helped to reorient EU policy toward China (“Cooperation-Competition-Systemic Rivalry”) in 2019, and was responsible for drafting the EU’s Indo-Pacific cooperation strategy in 2021.

Gunnar Wiegand himself describes his career path in European politics as somewhat unusual: “The normal diplomatic course is that people move between headquarters and abroad. I myself have always developed and negotiated more content in Brussels and have thus been able to make an impact both internally and externally,” he says.

At present, aside from the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy and the issue of how the EU can best contribute to help stabilize Afghanistan, the EU official is mainly preoccupied with the EU’s relations with China. And this work in recent days – naturally – has been particularly dominated by the Ukraine crisis, where it is essential to achieve a ceasefire and establish humanitarian corridors as quickly as possible. Janna Degener-Storr

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