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eu in asia

Europe in Emerging Asia

By Fraser Cameron

21 June 2015

(edited by Fredrik Erixon and Krishnan Srinivasan and published by Rowman and Littlefield)

This volume is a welcome addition to the growing literature on EU-Asia relations. It examines the problems and opportunities facing the EU as it grapples with a continent containing 60% of the world’s population and likely to contain 60% of the world’s middle class in less than two decades. The various authors make abundantly clear the growing interdependence between Europe and Asia.

One of the advantages of the book is the mix of authors, including experts and policy makers from both continents. But the book suffers, as is the fate of all edited volumes, from a certain inconsistency in the chapters.  China, India, Korea and Thailand are covered but not Japan. On the European side Britain and Poland are given prominence but there is nothing on Germany or France. Inevitably the chapters reflect the interests of the authors but nevertheless one finishes the book with a sense of having eaten a good meal, albeit with no dessert or coffee.

With one exception the Asia authors do not regard the EU as a strategic actor in Asia. This is not surprising as the relationship has essentially been trade driven, with some attention to political and security issues bolted on almost as an afterthought. Few European policy makers stop to consider the continuing implications of imperialism. The memories of Amritsar, the Opium Wars and Dien Bien Phu are only just below the surface. Krishnan Srinivasan also points to the unhelpful manner in which the EU seeks to preach its normative values in Asia without really considering local conditions. It is not so long ago that Europeans were persecuting gays and denying women the vote.

If Europe takes a more modest and realistic approach to Asia, and does not just focus on China, then the prospects for deepening the relationship will improve. The Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM) and ASEAN deserve greater EU support but ultimately the bedrock of EU-Asia relations will remain the bilateral ties between the EU and individual countries. It is important that the EU defines its own interests and then focuses on just a few priorities for each relationship, thus ensuring to a sceptical public the benefits of the EU acting together in external affairs.