15.10.2018 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The EU is Turning Towards Asia


The process of reformatting the world order that we can see in progress is a global and comprehensive phenomenon. In particular, it is reflected in the obvious change that is taking place in the relations between the main countries constituting the West. The difficulty of defining the latter with a certain degree of precision has to do with absurd ideologies and mere myths that this very concept has an excess quantity of.

The very usage of the term is currently nothing more than prolonged inertial movement after the Cold War, this global political game that lasted for almost 50 years, ended in 1991.

Apropos, let us note that this term refers to a certain stage in the history of mankind rather than some specific unprecedented event. At various times, in various places, the struggle of that period was carried out by using quite ordinary methods and means that had been employed for millennia: information, diplomacy, military action… and the purposes were just as ordinary as well.

The new political game that began after 1991 is different in the leading players, a gradual shift of its geographical focus from Europe and the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific region, deactivation and unavoidable disintegration (in the long term) of the alliances that had been established during the previous game.

The latter trend is becoming increasingly obvious in the exacerbating issues that can be observed in the relations between the 2 main parts of the West, i.e. the EU and the US.

In this respect, the issues in the trade and economic component of the transatlantic relations that are approaching the conflict stage are merely one of the manifestations of the increasingly evident inefficiency of the whole system of connections between the shores of the Atlantic Ocean that were established during the Cold War. As time goes by, each of the shores will progressively focus on its own geopolitical games.

One cannot help reaching that conclusion (at least, regarding the EU) after familiarizing oneself with the Joint Communication published by the EU headquarters on September 19. This document formulated both the shared vision of “Connecting Europe and Asia – Building blocks for an EU Strategy” by the EU governing bodies – and the main blocks which will serve its implementation.

It is stated that the work on designing the aforementioned Strategy is the EU contribution to the preliminary events for holding the regular (12th by count) summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Forum member states that will be held in Brussels on October 18 – 19. The Forum comprises 51 countries of Europe and East Asia that account for 2/3 of the international trade and 60% of the GWP.

The aforementioned EU document provides various (and rather impressive) figures that illustrate the urgency of activating the longstanding reorientation of the EU policy in general towards Asia.

Let us note that, as far as 2016 (i.e. before the issues in the trade and economic relations with the US surfaced), the abovementioned reorientation was outlined in the EU Strategy published back then.

Actually, the very fact that, just 2 years later, Brussels found it necessary to the design a special document fully dedicated to the Strategy for building relations with Asia demonstrates both the increasing relevance of this reorientation and the aggravation of the relations with the key ally of the EU.

Let us note that, already as from the early 2000s, the crucial interests of the US have been shifting to the Indo-Pacific as well.  In 2011, this trend was officially announced by the Barack Obama Administration. Despite his utter public disaffection for his predecessor, the incumbent US President has in fact continued and reinforced this trend.

However, there are currently no indications that the US and the EU are planning any joint action in the Indo-Pacific. No wonder since they have very different objectives here dictated by their fundamentally different attitudes to the fact that China has become a new global superpower.

Washington DC reoriented its foreign policy towards Asia due to the very fact that China had become the second leading international player, which is considered a challenge to the US domination in the new global political game.

This is why, despite the impressive scope of bilateral cooperation in the trade and economic sphere (and its critical issues), the main challenge Beijing provided is still seen in the military and political sphere.

It is the reason behind the Washington DC maneuvers for building a regional system of anti-Chinese counterweights that includes not only the key US ally, Japan, but also Australia (which Washington has ally commitment to as well, as part the ANZUS bloc), India and the EU.

The latter, however, in most cases (and due to specific motives described further) is obviously not in a rush to react positively to any maneuvers of the kind. The EU has approximately the same problems in the trade and economic relations with China as the US, but, apparently, there are currently no military and political issues whatsoever. One cannot exclude, however, the possibility of their emergence in Africa and the Greater Middle East.

The last time an effort was made by the EU to indicate its alliance with Washington DC in the latter’s confrontation with Beijing in the South China Sea was in summer 2016 when, during the regular annual Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD), the then French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian called on the EU to patrol the South China Sea on a regular and apparent basis.

There has been no apparent reaction to this call on the part of the EU over the following 2 years. One can state with confidence that there will be none in the future either.

The UK is showing some military activities in the Indo-Pacific. Though, its hours are numbered in the EU and its military games with Japan in the Indian Ocean (and its earlier provocation in the South China Sea) can be considered a certain courtship of the leading Trans-Pacific Partnership member state of today. Since the question “where can we poor orphans go now?” is becoming extremely topical for the UK.

From all appearances, various options are being considered and considerations regarding applying for the TPP membership have already been voiced on the government level. This organization will operate as from the beginning of 2019 and Brexit completion is scheduled for March 2019. Thus, the due dates almost coincide.

There is no guarantee, though, that London will be number one in the already long queue for joining the TPP. Furthermore, one can state with confidence that Japan is primarily interested in developing its relations with the EU, rather than with a fugitive from this organization.

Finally, let us note the positive reaction of China to the publishing of the Joint Communication. China found its concept compatible with that of the Eurasian Land Bridge (also known as the New Silk Road or Belt and Road Initiative).

Both leading Asian partners of the EU (China and Japan) will attend the coming ASEM summit in Brussels. It would seem that, given the exacerbating relations of all the 3 leading participants of the coming forum with the US, this regular event can prove very significant.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.