The Role of the European Union in Asia: China and India as Strategic Partners

The Role of the European Union in Asia

Author(s): Bart Gaens, Juha Jokela, and Eija Limnell (eds)

ISBN:          978-0-7546-7790

Publisher: Ashgate Publishing Company

Year:          2009

Price:         CND$114,21

Reviewed by Martyn de Bruyn, Ph. D., Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois

The European Union (EU) has historically played no significant role in Asia. While EU member states, in particular the United Kingdom, France, Portugal and the Netherlands, had an historical colonial relationship with Asia, EU foreign policy has been aimed mostly toward Africa and North America. Asia was seemingly of little economic or strategic interest to the Union. What was true for Asia was also true in large part for China and India. As Asia became the new dynamic region in an ever more globalized world economy the EU also became more interested in enhancing its strategic relations with Asia’s two newly established powerhouses China and India. This important book sketches the development of these strategic relations and theorizes about the nature of the EU as external actor.

Timo Kivimäki in chapter 1 discusses the strategic partnerships the EU has with China and India. At the domestic policy making level these two regional superpowers are polar opposites but in foreign relations they are rather more similar to each other than to the EU. India shares with the EU its democratic regime and a complex federal policy making process. India shares with China, however, its Westphalian foreign policy approach. Whereas the EU has been characterized as post-Westphalian with its focus on human rights and human security, Chinese and Indian foreign policy still subscribes to traditional Westphalian values such as sovereignty and non-interference.

The nature of the EU as international actor is discussed by Juha Jokela in chapter 2 using the dichotomy of European superpower versus model power. The EU is presented as an active model power that is influenced primarily by its own history. Bart Gaens discussion in chapter 3 of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) touches on the limitations and opportunities of Europe as model power in Asia. Since European Union member states and not only the Union are partners in ASEM the EU does not often speak with a single voice in its relations with China or India. But Gaens finds that initial skepticism on the part of China and India makes way for constructive engagement.

Mikael Mattlin in chapter 5 looks more closely at the idea of strategy to describe the relationship between the EU and China. The EU’s formal policy tools in foreign relations are common positions and joint actions. Mattlin argues that these tools are mostly used in relation to weak or failed states and not China. In looking at five policy areas, both interest based and rights based issues, Mattlin finds limited convergence of policies. EU documents use the phase ‘challenge’ over ‘change’ in recognition of the fact that China is not gradually becoming Europeanized. Zhang Tiejun in chapter 6 also focuses on the strategic partnership between China and the EU, but is far more optimistic about the development of political rights in China (i.e. China becoming more like the EU). Tiejun sets out five criteria for the success of a strategic partnership and concludes that shared values and interests in cooperation may be only short term. In the long term China focuses directly on its needs especially in energy. The EU and China will more likely be rivals for energy than partners in multilateralism. Linda Jakobson in chapter 8 focuses her entire chapter on energy security arguing that China’s foreign policy is directed towards domestic economic growth and the securing of a stable energy supply. The main frontier for international competition over energy resources will be Africa. While China will defend the principle of non-interference when criticized by the EU or US over its human rights record, or lack of anti-piracy law enforcement, its continued large scale investment in Africa leads it to relax this same principle for the sake of the protection of its oversees commercial investments. In its relations with African nations China focuses on providing hardware (roads, railroads, modern communication equipment) while the EU focuses on software (government capacity building). This leads to friction between the EU and China over the latter’s close ties with some of the world’s worst human rights violating regimes. Both the EU and China depend heavily on imported energy and the differences in approaching African nations will remain, according to Jakobson. Claudia Astarita in chapter 10 points out that India and China are also competing hard for energy resources and new markets. While both India and China remain dominant powers in their regions, they both have signed FTA’s with ASEAN. The development of alternative sources of energy is one of the few areas where the EU and China do see a convergence of interests. Bates Gill in chapter 7 discusses China’s negative experience in recent history with multilateralism. He goes on to describe China’s gradual warming up to multilateral institutions such as APEC, ASEAN, ARF, Six Party Talks, SCO, and ASEM. Gill does caution that the quantity of multilateral institutions China engages somewhat hides the quality of the interaction. China is interested in international forums for cooperation, but does not seek EU style policy integration.

Most chapters in this edited volume deal with EU relations with China, or China and India together, but Rajendra Jain in chapter 9 focuses exclusively on EU relations with India. The EU and India share a democratic system of governance and this makes India a natural partner for the EU in Asia. Jain points out though that the strategic partnership between India and the EU is a venue for political dialogue and political cooperation rather than strategic relations in the more limited military sense. India, like many states in Asia, regards the US rather than the EU as partner in security matters. India shares the EU’s ideal of effective multilateralism only when it does not involve its own neighborhood where it favors hard power. Jain points to the relationship India has with Myanmar where it is unwilling to relinquish its economic interests for the sake of democracy promotion. Also in energy and environmental matters India is willing to cooperate with the EU as long as it does not jeopardize its economic growth. Jain concludes that the fact that the EU and India share democratic values does not translate into EU success in winning India over with its foreign policy. Even China is a more active partner in regional organizations  such as ASEM, ASEAN plus three, and APEC than India is in ASEM and SAARC. EU foreign policy has very little influence on India as it continues to see itself as a major regional power. India and China, as dominant powers in their region, and competitors for energy resources, are not about to have their foreign policies be Europeanized.

The role of the European Union in Asia sheds an interesting light on the strategic partnerships the EU has entered with China and India. The strategic element of the partnerships is mostly economic in nature and both states desire access to European markets. The EU gains very limited political influence in return for market access and the democratic and federalist nature of Indian politics do not provide the EU with any additional influence. In terms of engaging regional institutions, a major source of EU external influence, China is even more proactive than India, which regards the United States and not Europe as its natural ally in international relations.

Suggested citation:

Martyn de Bruyn(2012). Review of “The Role of the European Union in Asia: China and India as Strategic Partners” edited by Bart Gaens, Juha Jokela, and Eija Limnell, East Asia Integration Studies,