ASEM: What connects and what divides Europe and Asia

The upcoming 12th ASEM will focus on the theme Europe and Asia: Global Partners for Global Challenges. While ASEM forum is probably too broad to achieve something substantial, in general, what challenges connect Europe and Asia these days, and what does divide Europe and Asia? Read few comments.

Michael MontesanoVisiting Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)

I think that the time has come in which we can say that a critical mass of political and economic actors in Europe and Asia now understand how important to each other these continents are. Today, each continent confronts the grim reality of an American president who is ignorant of the world and determined recklessly to destroy the liberal bases of international relations. Actors in both Asia and Europe share an interest in defending those bases. They also have an opportunity to share with one another ideas about meeting the challenge of the aggressive Chinese Communist Party regime in Beijing under the leadership of Xi Jinping and of China’s hegemonic ambitions. These latter also represent a threat to the liberal bases of international relations that have served Asia and Europe well for some decades. One difficulty remains, however. Many governments in Asia continue to view international relations through the prism of security, and Europe has little evident traction in discussions of Asian security. What this means is that European participants in ASEM must find other ways to assert their relevance in Asian affairs. One waits to see what approaches they will choose.

Angela StanzelPolicy Fellow Asia Programme, European Council on Foreign Relations

The challenges that connect Europe and Asia these days are mainly focused on trading issues, in particular of course the US-China trade dispute and potential consequences for world trade. Even though Europeans share most of the criticism by the US-administration towards China, they do not agree on the implementation (i.e. pursuing a trade war). On a broader level both regions also share concerns about the future of the international liberal trading order and undermining of WTO rules.

Divisions between Europe and Asia are mostly focused on China and on similar concerns as mentioned above (the question on future of the international liberal trading order and undermining of WTO rules by China). For instance, the EU and its member states have long been concerned about China’s industrial policy because Chinese investment target strategic sectors. Both sides pursue infrastructure development in Asia (China’s BRI and the EU’s recently released connectivity strategy) but on substance there is division to be expected when it comes to sustainability and issues such as standards setting, transparency etc.

Ramon Pacheco PardoSenior Lecturer in International Relations, King’s College London, KF-VUB Korea Chair

I think that there are three global challenges that unite Europe and Asia. The first one is President Donald Trump’s retreat from trade multilateralism. Most Asian and European countries are part of global or regional supply chains. Many are also big exporters. So any challenge to multilateral threat is a problem for them.

Also, climate change is a major global challenge for many European and Asian countries. It is potentially an existential threat for entire cities such as Venice or Osaka. With a US president that is skeptical of climate change, it is up to the EU and leading Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan or China to save the Paris Agreement.

Finally, terrorism is another threat to both Europe and Asia, especially Western Europe and Southeast Asia. Terrorist networks expand throughout the Euroasian landmass and through the Middle East. But cooperation in this area has been limited so far, even within the EU. European and Asian countries need to do much more on this front.

In terms of the division between Europe and Asia, I think that there aren’t many but we can point out at the importance of the rule of law. The EU and Europe in general tend to take a legalistic approach to dealing with global challenges. Asia is more flexible, and prefers to work through non-binding agreements and, when necessary, ad hoc measures. This can prevent deeper cooperation between both regions.

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