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GIGA Focus Asien

"It’s Asia, Stupid": Time for the EU to Deepen Relations with Asia

Number: 6 | 11/2017 | ISSN: 1862-359X

Global economic power is shifting rapidly to Asia, now the EU’s most important trade partner. The EU has a vital stake in the peace and security of Asia as few of its policy goals, including climate change and preservation of the multilateral system, can be achieved without the positive engagement of Asia. This is even more important because of the attitude of President Trump to Asia and global affairs. The EU thus needs to give greater priority to Asia and develop a more coherent policy approach.

  • Growth rates in Asia have outstripped those in the EU and US for many years. Projected economic growth of 5.5 per cent this year in the Asia-Pacific region is far ahead of the 2.1 per cent and 1.9 per cent projected in the US and the EU, respectively. With economic clout comes political influence, which means that the EU has to pay more attention to Asia to achieve its own policy goals, whether in trade, climate change, migration, or terrorism.

  • The EU has to prioritise and should concentrate on its strategic partners (China, Japan, India, and South Korea) and support for ASEAN. The withdrawal of the US from the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) offers the EU an opportunity. The policy of bilateral free trade agreements with selected partners should be continued as there is little prospect of any region-to-region agreement.

  • The EU has a major stake in Asian security as any conflict would immediately impact global supply chains. It should do more to tackle “hot spots,” such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Myanmar, and emphasise its integrated approach to security, as demonstrated in Operation Atalanta.

  • The EU should not give up its normative agenda but should promote it in a more sensitive and realistic manner. The EU could also do more to help resolve the historical disputes in Asia, including paying more attention to its own historical role in the region.

Policy Implications

With the multilateral system under threat from the Trump presidency, the EU needs to engage more with Asia to secure its policy goals. It should revitalise its strategic partnerships as the centrepiece of a new Asia strategy. At the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Brussels in 2018, the EU should highlight its commitment to a stronger partnership with Asia. While trade will still be at the centre of EU–Asia relations, the agenda needs to be expanded to include a range of global issues.


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The German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

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