The sixth GlobalEurope 2020 anticipation seminar, organized by Europe 2020 in cooperation with the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was located in the magnificent “Locarno Room” (where the actual Locarno Treaty was signed) of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The seminar’s theme was the future of European policy and politics with Asia. On the eve of the ASEM summit, the presence of a number of very distinguished guests confirmed the importance of the seminar’s subject matter at a time when Asia is demonstrating its surging potential becoming the key-continent in the 21st century justifying the European Union’s increased interest in becoming its strategic partner on a global level. This session was once again characterized by a large convergence of opinions and analyses from the European speakers and participants. The confirmation of this trend (the convergence of ideas as related to foreign policy questions), shortly before the closing seminar of this first series of GlobalEurope 2020 seminars, lends itself to an optimistic outlook for the creation of a common foreign policy in the years to come.
The seminar’s participants demonstrated through their different commentaries the extent to which a new feature would influence the multi-secular Euro-Asian relationship: Asia is already proving itself to be the key-continent in the 21st century. It’s demographic size (2/3 of the world’s population), it’s accelerated economic development, it’s increasing importance in the world economy (alone, Asia represents 2/3 of the American commercial deficit), the internal presence of two of three of the world’s most disturbing regional conflicts (India/Pakistan, and China/Taiwan) and the existence of numerous nuclear powers (China, India, Pakistan), the on-going religious and ethnic tensions that make several countries increasingly vulnerable, the huge disparities in levels of economic and social development between and within Asian countries, all contribute to placing Asia at the center of global evolutions that will affect the world for decades to come. In this manner, the EU, like other continents for that matter, must now reconsider the importance that it bestows upon Asia in terms of foreign policy, all the while confronted with the challenge of inventing a strategy for its relations EU/Asia that take into account the entirety of the region, while not overlooking the diversity that exists between countries so as to create the most efficient EU foreign policy. This constitutes without a doubt that most complex challenge confronting the creation of a common foreign policy; but it is simultaneously the area in which the EU can paradoxically benefit from an important margin of maneuverability for, according to the general opinion of the seminar’s participants, the European administrations and political classes have barely discovered the importance of this region, as can be noticed through the almost unanimous understaffing of services dedicated to this area by the EU, as much as the dearth of mobilization of political representatives concentrated on Asia. It would thus appear that the EU has a position to assume that is for the moment only rarely addressed by national politicians and diplomats. In one day, the seminar could only begin to cover all of the components that make up EU/Asia relations, but consistent with the logic of the GlobalEurope 2020 seminars, we attempted to create a general schematic that is representative of the global framework for the previously stated relations, as well as for its applicability towards regions be they in function of geography or power, all the while avoiding the errors of “today’s certainties” that become “yesterday’s mistakes.”
China is part of Asia; but on several occasions during the debates it had to be restated that Asia is not just China
As it stands, Chinese economic development is fascinating and thus exercises considerable influence on our understanding of Asia. Attracted to its enormous markets, stunned by the magnitude of human relations that are measured in the hundreds of millions, wary of the consequences of such a large number of people seeking economic development, not understanding the political systems that enable the governance of a society of more than a billion people…. all of this contributes to Europeans (like the rest of the world) focusing their attention on one country that in fine boasts a GDP equal to that of the ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) with a population that is twice as large. Between the undeniable emergence of a new world power of the first order and the certainty that it will have a central role in deciding the future course of our planet, the EU must remember that Asia has already in the past thirty years given birth to two waves of new potential world powers that both corresponded simply to the countries’ integration into the group of developed nations: Japan from the 60s through the 80s and the “Asian Tigers” during the 80s and 90s. As we reminded several participants, Asia is in the midst of integrating itself into the “first world,” sub-region by sub-region and without this historic perspective one risks confusing the speed and dynamism of catching-up with long-term trends that will be established once the catching-up has taken place. A perfect example is China that, due to its “one child” policy, will have to face increasingly difficult problems related to its aging population without having the financial means or the social systems to deal with such a phenomenon, similar in many ways to Europe for example. Several participants highlighted the increasing problems in the domains of energy, the environment, nutrition, and politics emanating from the rapid growth that China is currently experiencing, that could constrain the rise to power of China by 2020 heavily contrasting with the past ten years. This idea is strengthened by the technological perspectives, for instance such as the development of the new IPv6 Internet protocol (creation of a quasi-unlimited number of fixed IP addresses enabling the individualised identification of billions of components and products) which will significantly reduce the possibilities of producing counterfeits and parts in many sectors – two industries key in the present economic development of China. This same problem should thus affect the choice of the EU strategy in terms of global governance in the decades to come.
EU future relations with China and India: a classic relationship between powers, associated to the common problem of governing mega-populations (those of more than 500 million people)
The irresistible attraction to China that is prevalent today among numerous political leaders and more so among economic policy makers illustrates the central conceptual problem that confronts the European Union in its definition of a common foreign policy vis-à-vis Asia: the huge disparity in statutes and situations between the different states in the region. Next to China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a nuclear power, with an advanced space program, the most populated country in the world, with an authoritarian government, is India, the second most populated country in the world (and quite possibly the most populated by the end of this century), a nuclear power burdened by its relegation to a position of regional power (thus looking for international recognition), governed democratically all the while subject to strong ethnic and religious tensions aggravated by a never ending conflict with neighboring Pakistan, and just recently having become the center of the “offshoring” so often besieged by Western governments. Both are certified powers or on their way to becoming as much yet at the same time they are both liable to enormous internal contradictions most notably on a social level. Thus, as was highlighted by several participants, the famous potential of the Chinese and Indian markets has been limited to some 200 or 300 million people respectively. The rest of the population remains incredibly impoverished and thus the de facto key-question between now and 2020: will they be able to maintain their competitiveness that has enabled them to compete effectively with other continents confronted with the enormous social pressures that are generated by economic and social development at two speeds? Nobody can answer this question today; which may inspire the EU to consider two strategic lines of cooperation with these two countries: on the one hand, a classical relationship between powers most notably in terms of global governance (UN, security, the environment, WTO…) and on the other hand a more innovative relationship in terms of governing large political entities (those greater than 500 million people), that will be the key-problem in terms of domestic politics for both China and India in the upcoming decades, as will also be the case in the EU. In fact, the EU tomorrow, with its more than 500 million citizens with close to 30 different nationalities, can learn from India (that has for 50 years managed democratically a nation of close to a billion people with a multitude of different cultures and religions) and China (with a centuries old governing system applied to groups of hundreds of millions of Chinese), and, in the case of dialogue, could share its experience with democracy and the management of a collective diversity and human/ individual rights. However, even if the problem confronted by the two Asian giants is the same, the methods employed to deal with them should be different: diplomatic and among governments with China; more democratic and decentralized with India and Indians, cognizant of the fact that in India there is an independent press that can serve as a relay for European innovations and ideas. The later strategy will have most notably the goal of demonstrating the changes in the European outlook towards the world, as Asian countries still harbor lucid images of Europe’s colonial past and have a difficult time accepting current messages concerning democracy and human rights. As one of our participants reminded us, although Asia ignores the European Union (very few Asian know what the Union is), Asians remember Europeans all too well!
ASEAN, the privileged target of innovations in EU common foreign policy
This former colonial feature (except Thailand which was never under colonial rule) could paradoxically constitute one of the strengths of the future success of relations between the EU and ASEAN if the Europeans (British, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Dutch) remember that as we began the process of European Construction, they still maintained a great number of these countries under colonial domination. A realization as such would enable the avoidance of a number of arrogant attitudes that would prejudice the development of cooperation between two areas that not only share a common past (even if based on conflict) but even more so that are engaged on similar paths in terms of their future that will generate similar questions and problems. ASEAN has given itself a horizon to 2020 to accomplish its objectives in terms of economic, commercial, social, environmental and political integration, that will confront its citizens (of whom a vast majority already live in democratic regimes) to questions very similar to those that Europe will have to confront in the near future. Whether the problems be technical (normalization, standardization, lifting of customs), structural (common infrastructures) or political (university exchanges, reinforcement of cooperation in terms of research, in terms of collective security,…) this regional entity of 500 million inhabitants, belonging to different cultures, has chosen to build a common road to reinforce its weight in the world all the while preserving the diversity of its different composing elements. Of course, ASEAN is building its own model of regional integration, but the EU must be aware that ASEAN is the area in the world that will undergo problems the most similar to those of the EU. The points in common between challenges and goals, coupled with important potentials in terms of economics and commerce, should lead the EU to make of ASEAN a privileged target for its common foreign policy. Beyond its relations with the totality of the countries in the zone, the EU is able to in this rare case experiment with a strategy and instrument of cooperation on a “region to region” basis in the different domains in which its own abilities are proven. If one of the central objectives of the foreign policy of the EU is to stimulate the emergence and the reinforcement of regional democratic entities when possible, then ASEAN is without contest one of the most important strategic priorities for EU foreign policy. ASEAN is asking for this kind of partnership, that would enable it to compete with its powerful neighbors; and the EU, if it is humble, possesses a strategic added value for ASEAN (as a participant reminded us, let us not forget that it is in Europe that we can find the largest world centers specialized in the languages and cultures of South-East Asia: Langues’O in Paris, Soas in London, IIAS in Leiden,…, and no, these centers are not in Asia!). The target of bi-lateral negotiations between the EU and Asia should thus be ASEAN and not Asia by itself (cf. intra).
EU-Japan: Moving from diplomatic relations to “people-to-people relations”
In terms of common interests, Japan is obviously the country that has historically and for the longest period of time been a partner with the West. However, in the European mind, the country and its people remain an enigma, much as for Japan, the EU is if anything seen as a purely commercial and economic entity. As one participant noted, the problem with relations between the EU and Japan emanates from the lack of problems at a governmental level; in terms of security issues, Japan almost always aligns itself with Washington; and it terms of global governance questions, Japan almost always aligns itself with the EU. Nonetheless, following the Iraqi crisis and the Japanese population’s negative reaction to the government’s decisions therein, Japan, as is the case with numerous Asian countries, seems to have entered into a phase of reflection as to the Asia’s future after the period of pax americana. In this country, neighbor to China and potentially threatened by North Korea, it is certain that military and strategic priorities will have a growing importance in the years to come. The EU can no longer remain a simple privileged partner of Japan in international discourse and with an almost purely market based relationship. Japan will play a key-role in the configuration of Asia in the near future. And, as Japan is the only Asian country that boasts a functional democracy over the course of successive decades, Japanese civil society emerges as the best suited target for a future EU/Japan partnership. The Internet in particular is a means for communicating and developing European strategies directed towards the younger generations of Japanese society, strategies that were otherwise impossible due to cultural and geographic limitations (as was certainly the case with South Korea). In a region where numerous countries may be tempted by the possibility of resolving their conflicts through military means, the EU must strengthen their relations at all levels with Japan, especially at a citizen level, considering that Japan has a lasting memory of the senselessness that is military adventurism.
Making sense of ASEM with two propositions for long term cooperation inspired by the European example
Beyond relations between powers (e.g. China and India), innovative partnerships (with ASEAN), and people-to-people relationships (with Japan and most likely South Korea as well), the EU must reinforce its approach to the entire region. The ASEM summits have provided an interesting forum enabling multiple points of contact between European and Asian leaders, but it suffers from a complete operational insufficiency. For it is in the EU/ASEAN sphere that common political objectives can be achieved; with ASEM, the EU must explore other routes inspired by its own continental experience. The Council of Europe and the OSCE constitute without any fragment of a doubt the best modes of cooperation with this “big Asia” where fear of thy neighbor type mentality dominates; coupled with a rise to power of democracy and human rights, albeit relative to the region. The EU could eventually contribute to the creation of a Council of Asia (inspired by the Council of Europe, with a cultural, educational and judiciary dimension) that would, at least in the beginning, bring together the democratic countries in the region; all the while supporting the creation of an OSCA that would enable to collectively lessen the degree of mistrust that exists currently between regional powers. Two such strategic and long term projects at least would potentially enable Europeans to have a collective concrete offer at the time of the large EU/Asia summits. And the intra-Asian conflicts must be managed if the rest of the world hopes to be able to avoid shocks of an incredibly destabilizing nature. As was stated by one of the participants, we may be able to resolve the conflicts between India and Pakistan or China and Taiwan with Cold War methods, and with the cooperation of the United States. By contrast, the multiplication of ethnic and religious conflicts will demand different types of approaches, more innovative, to which European experience lends itself quite effectively.
Moving to the next level in civil society relations
At the level of its intermediary actors (universities, local collectives, NGOs, SMEs,…), the EU has to renew its politics in terms of so-called “decentralized” cooperation while being wary of the size of the populations implicated. We are talking about affecting tens of thousands of operators. All policies that envision affecting a hundred or even several hundred societal actors in these regions in Asia are useless. To achieve the goal of reaching some tens of thousands of partners, the EU must initiate a strategy in two parts: first, it must enable a large scale mutual identification of potential partners by creating common virtual portals (cf. the TIESWeb network between the EU/USA); then and only then initiate programs of cooperation enabling the creation of tens of thousands of partnerships. Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, and India operate in a democratic context, thus being the obvious choices as partners for this kind of policy. The rekindling of interest in European universities among Asians generated by the difficulties in obtaining student VISAs for the US presents a special occasion to initiate these strategies that will show results over the course of the next decade.
For some participants, the 21st century will be Asia’s century; for others it will be the European Union’s. A successful implementation of EU foreign policy vis-a-vis Asia could ensure that the 21st century is the century for both Asia and Europe.