Europe in Emerging Asia, Opportunities and Obstacles in Political and Economic Encounters, edited by Fredrik Erixon and Krishnan Srinivasan
This collection of ‘essays’, written largely from European and Asian perspectives by a strong team of political scientists, economists, politicians, diplomats, and public policy practitioners with close ties to public policy makers, is edited by a duo – Fredrik Erixon and Krishnan Srinivasan respectively who themselves contributed two of the twelve chapters. The former is Director and Co-founder of the European Centre for International Political Economy and the latter a former Indian Foreign Secretary and former Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth turned academic researcher. It therefore comes as no surprise that both bring to their task of contributing to and editing the collection their impeccable credentials as specialists in international relations.
Two prefaces provide a tantalising foretaste of what is on offer. Both confirm the continuing relevance of the traditionally held views of Europe and Asia respectively as ‘old’ and ‘new’. The former is personified by the EU, intent on strengthening its economic presence and pre-eminence and predictably on a “civilising mission, among other things, to contribute to development, consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law values” in the latter. The latter, to a large extent and for good measure, is personified by China and India on account of the sheer size of their population and economic clout.
In an overarching introduction and in their own individual contributions the editors, and to a lesser extent the other contributors, take a dispassionate view of the impact a declining ‘Europe’ aiming to reposition itself as the ‘EU’ and an ‘emerging’ Asia have had on the global environment. All agree that although the existence of the EU has added value to the strengths of its constituent members, any speculation on whether the EU itself is a world power will serve no useful purpose.
The twelve essays, each presented as a chapter of the book, in turn consider and explore attitudes and problems in Europe-Asia relations under the following revealing headings:- Europe and India – Dialogue without Intimacy (Srinivasan); Europe and South Asia – An Enduring Engagement [(Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal & Bhutan, Bangladesh,(Chowdhury)]; Europe and Southeast Asia, The Nature of contemporary Relations (Fitriani); Thailand’s Middle Income Trap and Europe’s Assistance (Chareonwongsak); Korea and Asia-Europe Relations (Park, who introduces into the matrix of considerations the ever-growing interdependence between the nations of Northeast Asia alongside the security problems of a landscape often characterised as “the Asian paradox”); Britain, Europe, and Emerging Asia – A tale of Opportunity and Frustration (Mayall, who by contrast to his co-contributors suggests that ’Western’ and ‘Eastern’ values will probably continue to influence attitudes in Europe-Asia relations); Whither Asia-Europe Trade Relations and Political Cooperation (Fredrik Erixon); Why China-European Union Relations Are Not So Strategic – Ten Hypothesis (Yiwei); Central Europe, the European Union and Emerging Asia (Kuszewska); Europe’s Eastward Expansion – The connotations for Emerging Asia (Vasudevan); and American Bargaining, Pivoting, and Rebalancing – Implications for Europe and Emerging Asia (Levy).
It is evident from the editors’ own conclusions that the established and conventional view of Asia as a monolith is giving way to a new approach by both sides in their relationships which recognise the reality of the existence of other emerging Asian countries such as South Korea. Significantly, one of the authors (Mayall) hints at the likelihood that entrenched ‘values’, which traditionally have tended to underpin policy imperatives whether at the national, regional or international level, will probably continue to be relevant in shaping future international relations among groups of countries. This could be interpreted as a direct challenge and an invitation to policy makers in any given context to consider a re-calibration of their policy imperatives with a view to achieving more genuinely equitable relationships.
The significance of the essay headings should not be overlooked as they are revealing in the sense that they all reflect a degree of similarity in how Asia and Europe are each perceived on both sides of the divide.
Equally, against the background in which this collection of essays is presented, it would have been a surprise if no mention was made of the role, real or imagined, of American influence in Europe-Asia relations. The reality and extent of that influence was underlined by Levy in the final essay. Indeed, it would appear as if, in writing the essays, the authors had an unspoken foreknowledge or premonition of a convergence of events now taking place in Europe and threatening to consume its very existence. The convergence of these events appear to have highlighted the fragility of public support for the concept of a united Europe evidenced by disillusionment with, among other things, the present state of the European experiment and confidence sapping rumours of possible withdrawals from the Union. At the same time lurking ominously in the background was the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the United States which met with strong opposition in several quarters in Europe and parts of Asia but apparently, to the relief of many including the authors, seems to have atrophied.
While pointing to the lack of unity of purpose among the nations of emerging Asia in their external relations, the editors remain positive in their assessment of the prospects for the future. Perhaps in muted acknowledgment of the time-worn but unforgotten lament in some quarters of how “the West” underdeveloped “the East”, the editors agree that Europe still plays a major role in the global economy. However, while on one hand one of the editors sees Europe’s power to influence global politics and economics as having steadily declined (Srinivasan), on the other hand, his co-editor does not see Europe’s relative economic decline as fatal preferring instead to emphasise that Asia’s vaunted and presumed certain emergence is by no means uncertain and should not be taken for granted. The conclusion one can legitimately draw from this is that there is work to be done by both sides if they wish to be relevant in the emerging international political and economic environment.
Support for this view calling for a concerted effort on both sides of the divide can be drawn from the conclusions of all the contributing essays. To a lesser or greater extent and in roughly identical terms all of the contributors of the essays seem persuaded that, on the evidence of observable events in the Asia and Europe regions, there are good reasons to believe that there will be something in the nature of three main supra-states in the world namely America, Europe and emerging Asia. Within that milieu, the struggle of Europe and emerging Asia to achieve a common identity will remain work in progress for some time yet. Until then, international relations will be mainly an inter-state affair. One view of the situation as regards North-East Asia (Korea) relations with the EU was particularly upbeat. That view considered North Korea to be the immediate task at hand but was emphatic that North East Asia and the EU were ‘natural’ partners who share common values and principles and the experience of rising from the ruins of war (Park). Of particular interest are the more or less convergent views reached by two of the contributors from the Asian (Indian) and EU (British) perspectives. One of the views (Srinivasan) was to the effect that “Europe is not threatening to, and does not feel threatened by, India” and therefore that “India should not be oversensitive …to European criticism of Indian democratic standards..”. The other (Myall) was that the EU, Britain very much included, sees itself as the arrowhead of western civilisation but that if Britain and Europe are to remain relevant in a rapidly de-Westernizing world, there is an urgent need to rethink and reform the international order to make it more genuinely multipolar. Both also mention the intrusion into the equation of the special influence of the USA and China in its own right rather than as part of Asia in the EU-Asia relations.
Contrasting views regarding China’s relations with the EU are evident from two of the chapters devoted specifically to China. On the one hand there is the view founded apparently on historical evidence. That view is that reciprocity and institutional approach have been key and strategic variables in EU-China trade relations and that to develop this relationship China has paid considerable attention to improving its domestic reform process which it considers fundamental to achieving its ambition of great national status. The achievement of that ambition, according to this view would not be compatible with the EU’s dalliance with the United States in a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Arrangement as a TTIP arrangement would not promote mutually beneficial future EU-China trade relations (Xiaotong).
The opposing view (Yiwei) sought to advance arguments to show why the prevailing China-EU Relations are not so strategic. The main thrust of this opposing view is that there is disagreement on the strategic value of the China-European Union Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreed in 2003 following the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the European Communities (EC). That view asserts that in reality, based on the Partnership Agreement of 2003, EU’s policy towards China proceeds on purely commercial rather than any strategic considerations. The view, however, acknowledges that this came about because of misconceptions on both sides as to the true meaning of strategic relationship. Whereas China saw it as a long term, comprehensive and stable relationship beyond everyday domestic and international issues”, for Europe the emphasis has been on market access and on China’s attitude to global governance issues”. Both had different perceptions of what strategic partnership means. The position it appears, however, is about to change. A China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation released at the sixteenth China-EU Summit on 23 November 2013 apparently has spelled out with greater clarity what each party expects from their future relationship. Still the question remains, will the two parties be able to bridge the gap between words and deeds? In other words, asks Yiwei, “how do the parties intend to implement the strategic agenda?”
There is no doubting that from inception the EU has generally been a positive force for liberalism and tolerance. It would therefore be a profound blow at any time, but more so now when the EU is severely stressed by all manner of crises including the refugee crisis, the strains within the Eurozone and the rise of far-right nationalism within its membership, for it to return to embracing the destructive buccaneering politics of the 19th and 20th centuries.
History records that at different times in the history of the relations between nations or groups of nations even at the same or different levels of development, and whether at the regional or global level, problems will sometimes arise which could lead to conflict unless a solution is found that leads to peaceful co-existence. History also records that a policy of cooperation between nations and groups of nations at various levels facilitates peaceful co-existence in which all sides can interact productively. This was demonstrated admirably by the recent Paris agreement on Climate Change although the Agreement did not come without friction and the EU had to change its approach in order to get closer to the position taken by Asian governments.
Unfortunately, there are bound to be times, as is now the case in both Europe and Asia, when governments are beset or preoccupied with internal problems which affect or inhibit foreign initiatives. Europe is troubled by the problems related to insignificant growth rates and the Eurozone debt, threats from Islamic extremism/terrorism, none of which ae showing any signs of abating. There are doubts about free movement in the Schengen area, refugee influx and there is general disillusionment with the European Union as manifested by the imminent British Referendum on whether to remain or to leave the EU. One major casualty of the present state of uncertainty in Europe is the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States of America which, at best, remains in a state of suspended animation as neither side appears to be keen on making any move until after the United States Presidential election later in 2016. As a result, despite the apparent declared interest by EU leaders to negotiate more agreements with the big and emerging Asian economies, disputes concerning industrial overcapacity in sectors like steel nullify any expectations of progress being made soon.
On the Asian side, in terms of Asia-EU relations, an unholy combination of a variety of strategic issues are making it more difficult to elevate their relations with the EU to the optimal level. These include land and maritime boundary disputes, nuclear proliferation, military modernization and the absence or inadequacy of regional institutions for problem-solving. Notwithstanding that the political leadership in the major economies in the region has remained stable the position has shown no sign of changing for the better.
Although it deals primarily with the Asia-Europe geopolitical region this book admirably fills an important void. It brings together hitherto uncharted perspectives and reflections on past interaction between two potentially powerful contiguous regions in a way that challenges their respective political leaders and political leaders everywhere to work together with a view establishing a mutually beneficial political and economic order. The book gives a fresh and as comprehensive an insight as anyone engaged in the study or practice of international relations would wish to have as a working tool. It could not have come at a better time and cannot be too highly recommended either as a study companion or a ready reference book in international relations management and practice, as well as politics and trade.
Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal