Asia and Europe: Coming together or drifting apart?Posted: 07:05 pm 02 July 2012 Category: Business & Policy
By Rekha Manoharan
We are living in an increasingly interdependent world. Asia's interests and those of Europe intersect more than ever before. In this international landscape, understanding cultures is vital for improving relations between countries and regions.
Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, shed light on the current state of Asia-Europe relations last month. Sharing his views along with experts from the fields of business and political affairs during a public briefing held in Singapore, Professor Koh offered an insightful and frank discussion on the state of Asia-Europe relations and the prospects for future convergence.
In recent months, all eyes have turned towards Europe as its economy undergoes a period of challenge and change. The Eurozone remains the world's largest economic bloc and is a major source of technology and innovation for the rest of the world. Asia-Europe relations have recently focussed predominantly on the Eurozone's current debt crisis and the potential adverse impact on Asia.
Whilst some European voices have expressed some hope that Asian countries can mobilise support for their European counterparts, the Asian response has so far been reserved. With Asian economies growing rapidly, Europe's future prosperity is said to depend increasingly on its engagement with Asia. However, in the sphere of international relations, the case of the Asia-Europe partnership is still said to be the weakest. Although both regions have cooperated bilaterally on several issues, they are still yet to develop a cooperative dialogue. The benefits to be gained from this powerful alliance are significant.
Experts suggest that in order to establish stable economic relations, it is important for both regions to learn through common interests, speak openly about possible challenges and make concessions where needed. In reaching a mutual understanding, both regions must be willing to listen to and understand the other, instead of seeking to impose one's views on the other. Some argue that the problem, in many cases, lies with Europe's self-perception as a "benevolent superpower", in other words, a region which sets the universal norms for policy, economic growth and cultural influence.
Professor Koh also highlighted that Asia has learned many lessons from Europe. Every year, thousands of Asian students flock to Europe in pursuit of university degrees. However, the same does not apply for Europe. Perhaps for a change, he suggests Europe could learn from Asian models. Professor Koh drew on the 1997 Asian crisis to illustrate a scenario whereby Asians and Europeans differ in their responses to a financial crisis. In 1997, ordinary citizens in South Korea and Thailand donated their gold and jewellery to their respective governments to help save their countries from economic meltdown. Whilst a cultural difference is evident in this case, Europe can learn from Asia on the willingness to accept short-term pain for long-term gain.
There are certainly more lessons to be learned on how quiet Asian pragmatism continues to deliver steady economic growth. Despite the rapid emergence of the new powers, the region remains relatively stable. ASEAN continues to outperform the EU in the geopolitical sphere through its efforts to bring together developed economies into concentric circles of cooperative engagement. The EU should make a determined effort to understand how replicating the East Asian experience could mean a more stable future for Europe. Easily, this would also allow Asia and Europe to cooperate across a diverse spectrum of issues and challenges.
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