Global Insider: Asia-EU Relations

14 October 2014

Source: Welt, die (Germany)
Source type: Newspaper
Published on: 11 Nov 2010

Posted on: 12 Nov 2010

Asia and the European Union held their biannual interregional gathering, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), in Brussels last month. In an e-mail interview, Jonas Parello-Plesner, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, discussed relations between Asia and the EU.

WPR: What are the major issues and obstacles driving economic relations between the two regions?

Jonas Parello-Plesner: The main driver of cooperation is economic. Asia and particularly China are Europe's largest trading partners, with the two regions intertwined as part of the global supply chain. That is illustrated by the biannual ASEM summit, which unites 49 countries and 60 percent of global trade. But this cooperation is spontaneous, market-driven integration.

On the political side, it makes much less sense to speak of region-to-region cooperation or joint decisions. There is a certain asymmetry in the region-to-region negotiations since the EU is internally coordinated in its positions. Asia consists of a much more heterogeneous group of countries, with the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries plus China, Japan and South Korea, as well as India and Australia. This makes coordination on a common position more difficult, since Asian countries often do not have similar positions in other multilateral bodies. The ASEM meetings generally take stock of developments in other international forums, like climate change at the U.N. level and the North Korea nuclear issue in the context of the Six Party talks, for instance.

The economic obstacles between the two regions mirror the need for a global rebalancing of growth discussed at the G-20. The EU is also still affected by the economic downturn and would like to see Asia -- particularly China -- open its own markets further for European exports and investment opportunities. Asia, on the other hand, is worried about signs of protectionism in Europe and is striving to keep European markets open to their products. In that context, the free-trade agreement between the EU and South Korea that was signed at the last ASEM summit was a testimony to EU-Asian political will to continue free trade even in a time of economic difficulty.

WPR: To what degree do the two sides engage on a regional level, compared to bilaterally among member states?

Parello-Plesner: It depends on the domain concerned. In the field of trade, the European countries have delegated competence to the EU to negotiate on their behalf. A unified Europe negotiates in the World Trade Organization and on free-trade agreements, where negotiations are ongoing with India, Malaysia and Singapore. The initial plan between the two regions was for ASEAN-EU negotiations, but those had to be aborted. In many other more-political areas, the bilateral contact primes relations, particularly among the larger EU states and large Asian states, as highlighted by the recent visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Paris and British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to China.

WPR: What are the potential opportunities for broader regional ties beyond the economic sphere?

Parello-Plesner: The best opportunities lay in particular issues and specific cooperation between countries. For example, there was cooperation between ASEAN, the U.N. and the EU in bringing disaster relief to Burma after Cyclone Nargis. Then there are possibilities for greater cooperation in the G-20 forum, and not only with Asia's largest nations (China, Japan and India), but also with the middle powers (Korea, Indonesia and Australia) that have gained a new say in global governance.

-by Matt Peterson, World Politics Review