Europe and Asia – Regions in Flux

Europe and Asia

Editor:        Philomena Murray

ISBN:           978-0-230-54266-2

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, London

Year:           2008

Price:         $85.00


Reviewed by Elisabetta Colla, Researcher, Macau Scientific and Cultural Centre, Portugal

Europe and Asia. Regions in Flux is a Jean Monnet Transnational Research Project funded by the European Commission of the European Union, originally entitled “Europe and the Asia-Pacific: Models and Linkages”. The book edited by Philomena Murray is the result of a multidisciplinary work that aims to research the impact of the EU experience on the East Asian Region. The project worked out by a multidisciplinary team (from Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Japan, Singapore and the United Kingdom) aimed to examine how European model could be considered as an inspiration for East Asian countries in order to build, or at least, imagine (cf. B. Andersen) itself as a community. The most evident common feature of East Asia is heterogeneity, in the sense that there was not easy to determining common goals and shared agendas and that it could happen that the more strong States could overcome the weaker. If we cannot yet talk about ‘ASEAN-ness’, in contrast EU present itself as a space that share the same values, the same historical experience and above all the same democratic system, a capitalistic mode of production and the rule of law. According to a multifaceted team of researchers with a different academic background, all specialized on EU-East Asian relations, EU might represent a paradigm for East Asian Regionalism, with its supranational institutions and the pooling of sovereignty of the 27 member states, in fact EU is seen as a “putative political model” (p.6).

The title contains the word flux, which undoubtedly conveys the idea of a dynamic process. The title leaves the clear idea that while dealing with EU, but especially with East Asia we are dealing with something in motion, which involves various factors related to time and space. If we do consider the basic Newton’s law of motion: “a body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion, unless it is acted on by an external force”, the reader attention focuses on the dynamical factors that will one day lead to the constitution of East Asia Community, if any. Since the EU and East Asia Relations are playing in a very complex global net, where other internal players (endogenous factor) of the same space and international actors (exogenous factor) could “act as external force” and change the situation.

The interdisciplinary dialogue promoted by the editor with the collaboration of many authors will be presented following the original structure of the book.

Alex Warleigh-Lack (Brunei University) analyses the EU, ASEAN and APEC relations on a comparative base. The word dynamic is in  focus both in studying the integration theory and regionalism approach with a theoretical approach. The dialogue is seen as the foremost and fundamental base for mutual understanding. The author underlines that regionalization, a non-hierarchical process, “must be grounded in an appreciation of diversity” (p. 24), which is clearly a result of the awareness of the heterogeneity of Asia. The lesson that EU can teach is about its transnational polity whose most evident results are common citizenship rights and currency of its own.

Derek McDougall (University of Melbourne) examines ASEAN (1967), APEC (1989), ASEAN Regional Forum (1994), ASEAN+3 (1997) and EAS (2005), as expression of regionalism. Among them, ASEAN, which is not really a regional integration, emerges as the strongest of the groupings becoming one of the starting points for the analysis of international politics in Southeast Asia. Regionalism in East Asia was influenced by various players, the US in primis. The scenario changed if analyzed before and after the Cold War, when the US influence was weakened during the latest phase of East Asian regionalism and when China and Japan emerged as key player. “The newer East Asian regionalism is nascent, representing a change on emphasis in the international politics of the region (p.57)”.

Bernardette Andreosso-O’Callaghan (University of Limerick, Ireland) offers a comparative and contrastive analysis of the economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region and EU. The development of economic integration of ASEAN+3, with the following involvement of Australia and New Zealand is presented by statistical tools (the data available up to 2005). “The analysis of economic linkages between the two regions […] implies that there is scope for more economic exchange between the EU and the Asia-Pacific region in the future. This strengthens the need for government-led policies that foster the Asia-Europe relationship (p. 80)”. The role of China is highlighted here.

Edward Moxon-Browne, Limerik University, makes his contribution in studying whether and how the EU political integration can effectively serve as model for ASEAN. Nevertheless, according to the author ASEAN lacks of a solid homogeneous backbone that could favor political integration (which implies a sense of community among people within one political entity) and a set of common values. The autarchic approaches to the economic development and a lack of cultural identity are obstacles to viable political integration as well as the formation of a common civil society. If the EU can give any lesson to ASEAN, it would be in terms of ties of identity, shared values, predictable political behavior, absence of violence, factors that cannot be applied to all ASEAN countries. “In ASEAN region, despite there being scope for recognition of mutual rights on the back of labour mobility and foreign direct investment, little has been achieved. In the area of human rights there exist wide divergences among ASEAN countries, and the prospects for achieving a meaningful ‘charter’ were at best problematic (pp. 100-101)”.

Yeo Lay Hwee, National University of Singapore and University of Melbourne, gives her view on the ASEM key role in EU-East Asia relations affirming that ASEM is the latest and the most  ambitious attempt to provide a framework to these relations. EU-East Asia relations will continue to grow and ASEM will remain as “an entity in the broad gamut of inter-regional for a and summit meetings that will give significance to low-intensity cooperation of so called flexible cooperation which is shallow and opportunistic and does not provide or contribute to real solutions of global problems (pp. 119-120)”.

Christopher Dent, University of Leeds, suggests that regionalization is linked to the economic activity that fostered the creation of production and distribution networks, which are bound to the economic zonal development of East Asia and Europe. This chapter analyzes the similarities and contrasts in economic geography of regionalization in East Asia and Europe. According to the author, regionalization represents somehow the geography of regional integration (p. 123). The more the micro-level economic activities are becoming transnational in nature, the more the integrative linkages in East Asia and Europe are developing on a region-wide scale (p.123). The transnationalized business operations are integrative factors that foster the regionalization process, together with universal dynamics like the drive for economic efficiency, which should be considered in a global context. To conclude the author stresses that if Europe is compared with East Asia, it has undoubtedly a stronger institutionalized context, a characteristic that also emerged clearly from other chapters of this book.

Nicholas Rees, National College of Ireland, focuses on the impact of 9/11 on the EU and ASEAN in terms of War on Terror and approaches to security. The author addresses three key questions (p. 149): how and in what ways did regional organizations in EU and Asia respond to 9/11 and the terrorism wave; what impact has this had on regional security cooperation both in EU and Asia and, finally, what can be previewed for the future security cooperation in Europe and Asia and the adoption of specific anti-terrorism measures. Since Asia is a heterogeneous geographical, political and economical space, there is a lack of strong regional security cooperation. Even if the EU already funded specific initiatives in Asia as emerges from the EU-ASEAN agenda on terrorism, ASEAN continues to take more in consideration US strategies. “From ASEAN perspective the EU is one of a number of actors with which it needs to balance its interests, including the US, China and Japan, as well as the broader Asia-Pacific (p.167)”.

From Toshiro Tanaka’s study, Keio University, emerges that East Asian countries still prefer a bilateral relation with EU countries. Governments, companies and academics regard the EU’s achievements in the integration process positively and as a model for East Asian countries. Due to the challenges of globalization, the increase in regionalism was a global phenomenon (especially for the powerful regional blocs emerging in Europe and North America). This phenomenon was quite absent in East Asia that presents itself with a complex regional diversity in development stages and political systems (p. 173). Many scholars quoted emphasized that there is polyphony of history, religion, culture, economic development and political systems in East Asia. From this point of view is quite difficult to see the EU as a model exemplified with the ‘Unity in Diversity’. The author concludes quoting Toshihiko Kuroda, who believes that East Asia, inspired by EU, is soon to achieve a wider and deeper integration and paying more attention on regionalism while “maintaining its distinctive characteristics of great diversity, high dynamism, flexibility and adaptability” (p. 185) and in this lies the difference between the East Asia integration process and EU experience.

All the ideas are finally resumed in the last chapter by the editor, Philomena Murray, University of Melbourne, who is in charge of the concluding remarks. Even if the EU is considered by many as a paradigm of political and economical integration, nevertheless it cannot be considered as a suitable model for East Asia, which is a patchwork of various elements sometime in contrast among them. Much depends on the China-India and the Japan-China-Korea relations. Many questions are left open for further research of a dynamic process that is in progress. In the reading of the book, we clearly perceive that there is not a homogeneous perspective on regional integration, whether it is quite clear that the EU can serve as example, but not as model as such, but needs a process of adaptation to East Asia reality, which is very different from the EU situation. “It is [in any case] difficult to predict what the next major challenge for Europe and Asia will be, and there is always a risk that the EU will once again place in the relationship with East Asia, engagement will remain vibrant and more than reactive. Security concerns will possibly become prominent (p. 207)”, the author concludes.

European and Asia relations have an historical background of at least 5 centuries (if we consider it from the age of discoveries of the 16th century). This historical background of failure and success left us a huge literature that should be read on the light of the new global assessment and took as example for the future. The EU, as was stressed many time in this book, share the same values and this is undoubtedly a step forward to enhance the self-consciousness and perception of the EU as a true community. I guess how much of the Da Yaxiyazhuyi, suggested by Sun-Yat Sen in his 1924 speech (with a clear implication against European imperialism) could be further developed in positive way and serve to create in East Asia as self-consciousness of a broad community that share the same values, not to constitute a block against EU but to collaborate with it even if in a polyphonic way.