Europe and Asia have good trade and business ties but need to develop an equally dynamic and forward-looking political and security relationship. This is crucial if Europe is to become a credible partner for a rising Asia. With the structure of the new European External Action Service finally in place, it’s time to start work on a much-needed new European strategic vision for engaging with Asia.
Relations with China must be top of the agenda but EU policymakers must also look beyond the current preoccupation with Beijing. Stronger ties must be built up with India and Indonesia as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The EU-Japan relationship needs new momentum. A stronger EU-Asia conversation is needed on global flashpoints including Iran, North Korea and Burma as well as recent tensions in the East and South China Seas.
Discussions should focus on cooperation to manage urbanisation, develop low-carbon technology, tackle climate change, combat poverty, ensure energy security and pursue anti-piracy actions.
Free trade negotiations with Asian countries need to be pursued and more ambitious pacts covering wider economic cooperation should be explored with other countries, including Japan, which are looking for closer trade ties with the EU. EU-Asia investments must be facilitated in both directions. Discussions on easing the financial and monetary crisis are vital.
Closer ties between European and Asian civil society groups should be encouraged, with a special emphasis on reaching out to young people.
Above all, Europe must not only talk to Asia – it must also listen.
Dealing with ascendant Asia will require that the EU changes its traditional way of dealing with the region. Emerging Asian countries like China and India do not fall into neat categories of “rich” and “poor”; as such, they require sophisticated handling.
The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held in Brussels last October – attended by most Asian leaders – is proof that the majority of Asian countries want close relations with Europe, and see the EU market as vital for their domestic growth and development.
The EU’s problem is simple: it has been unable to leverage its economic power in Asia into real, sustained political clout.
Dealing with a changing and rising Asia will require a change in European mindsets, new courtships and new alliances.
Correcting the view among many Asian policymakers that the EU is an irrelevant global player will take time, energy and effort. Failure to do so, however, could mean a brake on Europe’s ambitions to become a potent global actor.
It is with these challenges in mind that Friends of Europe has launched a high-profile Asia Programme which will study and analyse ascending Asia and assess the different ways in which it impacts on the European Union.
Through a range of diverse activities, including high-level conferences, seminars, roundtable discussions and publications, including policy recommendations, our new Asia Programme will strive to contribute to the development of a new EU strategy for Asia