The EU has a strategic interest in playing a fully-fledged role in and with Asia. The EU has a huge stake in the continued success of Asian economies, including China’s reform efforts. But the EU is also vulnerable to the ramifications of underlying political and security tensions. Disputes and conflicts in the region would affect trade routes, financial flows and a regional order in a part of the world which is of paramount importance to the EU.
The challenge ahead is to maximise economic opportunities and access to growth in the region, while positioning the EU as a committed and constructive political and security actor. The EU can tap into the growth of Asia’s middle class, while supporting the region in dealing with the environmental and social challenges this brings about. On the back of its own experience, the EU is well placed to offer customised support to regional cooperation efforts in Asia, without preaching a single model. The relationship with ASEAN, as a fellow partner in integration, holds special promise in a region affected by growing geopolitical tensions. The EU can also step up its engagement with regional security structures, fostering a rules-based approach to conflict management. Lastly, the EU should seize the opportunity presented by Asia’s multifaceted connectivity drive – from ASEAN’s plans to China’s ‘Silk Road Economic Belt and New Maritime Silk Road’ – through a multipronged approach which brings together various sectoral instruments. It also needs to ensure that these initiatives comply with WTO rules, open public procurement practices, and stringent environmental and social standards.
The EU can offer consistent but also customised support to regional cooperation efforts in Asia. We also need to foster a rules-based approach to conflict management and respond to the opportunity presented by various developments in Asian connectivity.