EU needs to further engage its Asian counterparts on security issues
15.11.12 @ 10:10
Perspectives for a European security strategy towards Asia: Views from Asia, Europe and the US. By Gustaaf Geeraerts and Eva Cross (eds.). VUBPress; 309 pages; €37.74 (excl. VAT and shipping) at EUbookshop.com.
As one of the world’s most dynamic regions, Asia now offers more opportunities and challenges to Europe than ever before. Perspectives for a European Security Strategy Towards Asia outlines the current state of play in EU-Asia relations, highlights in detail the need for deeper cooperation between the EU and Asian countries, looks into adopting a more coherent security strategy towards Asia from different perspectives and provides policy suggestions for readers and decision makers to consider. It also answers important questions fundamental to the complexity of the EU-Asia paradigm such as ‘Why Asia matters?’ and ‘What can the EU contribute to Asia in security terms?’
In June 2012, the EU adopted ‘Guidelines on the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia,’ based on the previous 2007 version. Several of the changes and the new emphasis seen in these guidelines are revealed in the book, which was actually published earlier than the guidelines, a further example of the demonstrable need for the EU to address and respond to challenges clearly recognised by member states and academia alike.
The EU is not only paying more attention to Asia’s long and short-term security but also demonstrating its determination to engage its Asian partners. It is encouraging to see that the EU recognises the need to support further regional integration based on clear recognition of shared interests with the majority of its Asian counterparts rather than just one or a few partners.
Over the years, the EU has been Asia’s major trading partner and the largest foreign direct investor in many Asian economies. EU trade with Asia is increasing rapidly and is expected to grow continuously in the coming decade. East Asia alone accounts for 27.9 percent of the EU’s total trade, a figure significantly higher than trans-Atlantic trade which now accounts for 22.7 percent of EU trade.
The export of raw materials, mechanical equipment and ICT components from Asia provides a sound base for the EU’s industrial development and economic growth. European companies, after the processing, assembling and labelling processes, export finished goods to Asia and the rest of the world for more value-added profit. The interdependence of trade between the EU and Asia is so inextricably linked that the EU and Asia both require further cooperation and coordination to maintain and improve upon existing levels of trade.
Some might argue that trade and commercial interests are what the EU prioritises in its relations with Asia, and indeed that the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is insufficient to effectively coordinate the common positions of the member states. However, since the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European External Action Service (EEAS) now represents the EU’s interests with a more coordinated voice.
In addition, non-traditional security and emerging challenges including cyber security, counter-terrorism, natural disasters, energy security, climate change, counter-piracy, and freedom of navigation, are receiving greater attention on both global and regional security agendas and thus provide the EU, an experienced player in addressing these challenges, with a unique opportunity to play a more prominent role in Asia. Those security issues are no less important than traditional security.
In fact, growth in trade between the EU and Asia depends on a sound and stable security environment in the Asia-Pacific region. What might happen if, for example, major shipping routes in Asia are cut off because of terrorist attacks on critical infrastructures, or if a natural disaster results in the suspension of production, or even if computer systems are hacked and become dysfunctional? As a result, we would see an enormous loss not only for Asian but also for European economies. These are not simply trade matters but security related issues. Therefore, it is crucial the EU develops closer dialogue with all its Asian counterparts in this regard.
The EU’s profound experience is helpful in setting norms, encouraging further cooperation and de-escalating tensions. Asia is not short of flashpoints as one can easily see from past experiences as disputes and tensions have ranged from territorial claims to the threat of proliferation of WMD.
Take cross-Strait relations for example. The EU’s history of economic integration serves as an inspiration for political leaders in Taiwan to rethink how to economically engage mainland China by setting aside historical differences and political issues, and live peacefully with the status quo. Eventually Taiwan’s success with democratisation may be instrumental in advancing political reform in mainland China. This kind of subtle influence is not as easily seen as outright military presence but its results can be far-reaching and, it is hoped, long-lasting.
The EU’s geopolitical interests might be different from those of its trans-Atlantic ally which has a direct stake in peace and stability and therefore maintaining a military presence in Asia for its own security commitments. What is also true is that the EU, like the US, desires a conflict-free, democratic, stable and prosperous Asia, with more like-minded allies. This shared vision coupled with Asia’s powerful potential for trade and growth can reap benefits for all sides.
The EU needs to further engage its Asian counterparts in multilateral fora on security issues, aside from its current strategic dialogues with key partners. Due to the nature and complexity of many of these security issues, dialogues conducted through a track-two mechanism would be more inclusive and all participants would be encouraged to openly exchange views in line with the EU’s experience on regional peace and security.
Mr. David Y.L. Lin is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and its former ambassador to the EU (2010-2012).