The concert of Eurasia

14 October 2014

Source: New Europe (Belgium)
Source type: Magazine
Published on: 10 Oct 2010

Posted on: 11 Oct 2010

If the European Union was a concert hall, last week it would feature a very rich program. First, the 'Eurasia' symphony orchestra playing the harmonious ASEM melody. Then, switch of stage, the 'Summit' ensemble with European and Chinese virtuosi engaging in a lively double fugue. Music watchers already debate whether the concert of Eurasia will supplant the old concert of Europe in pulling the crowds. The bigger point, others argue, is that these days big-ego soloists enjoy the favor of the public and the critics. Many of the questions that agitate the music world can apply to international relations as well. The rapid sequencing and, in political terms, quasi-overlap of the Asia-Europe meeting and of the EU-China summit (as well as the signature of the EU – South Korea free trade agreement) reveals a structural feature of the evolving international system. The rise of global players such as China and India entails that bilateral relations between the EU and them gain new prominence. But today's complex interdependence suggests that such partnerships can ultimately deliver only if set in the context of broader multilateral dialogue and negotiations. Arguably, truly strategic partnerships are those that can harness bilateral relations to achieve multilateral solutions to shared problems. From this standpoint, the EU-Asia practice falls short of its rhetoric.

ASEM is a useful but, so far, politically rather inconsequential platform for dialogue. The EU-China partnership is not a truly strategic one because the EU is not a fully-fledged international actor, China is a reluctant stakeholder of the international system and the partnership has not yet performed as a transmission belt to convert bilateral rapprochement into multilateral agreements. Suffice it to mention the Copenhagen conference on climate change and the ongoing, tense currency debate.

That said, neither level of engagement should be dismissed. The Chair's Statement and the Brussels Declaration on more effective economic governance released at the end of the ASEM summit outline a vast potential for cooperation. The EU should pursue both formats of cooperation with renewed vigor, while investing in multiple channels of dialogue and influence between the narrow and somewhat stuck G2 (EU and China, in this case) and the rather large and somewhat shallow G46 (ASEM). The EU should deepen its relationship with other regional organizations in Asia, notably ASEAN. The envisaged EU accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation is a step in the right direction. The political and strategic dimension of EU-ASEAN cooperation should be enhanced and a much closer coordination established between inter-regional relations on the one hand, and the bilateral partnerships of the Union with global actors such as China, Japan and India on the other. The two levels of cooperation should be consistent and mutually reinforcing.

The EU should also upgrade its relations with pivotal regional players such as Indonesia and Pakistan. For all their obvious differences, the point is that the evolution of these countries will be decisive for the stability and prosperity of Asia. Progress has been achieved with the launch of summit meetings with Pakistan in 2009 and the broadening of the framework for cooperation with Indonesia.

But, as always, process will not substitute for political focus on the part of the EU and its Member States. In the case of Pakistan, in particular, recent measures undertaken to bring humanitarian relief and increase access to the EU market in the aftermath of the tragic summer floods need to be complemented by stronger and more substantial support in the domains of good governance and the rule of law over the long-term. From a geostrategic standpoint, a glance at the map shows that ASEM countries are connected by maritime highways but separated by the 'arc of instability' stretching from the Middle East to the Gulf and Iran up to Afghanistan and Central Asia. A mature, strategic relationship between European and Asian partners should address in more depth these geopolitical hotspots, as well as the issue of maritime security, and serve as one of the platforms to strengthen the regional dimension of crisis prevention and crisis management.