Asia does not matter to the European Union

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The International Herald Tribune, October 09, 2004
Asia does matter to the European Union
Bernard Bot
Asia-Europe summit HANOI – Compared with China, even the largest states of the European Unionare small. Together, however, the EU and its 25 members are an indispensable partner for any other country or region interested in prosperity and peace.The EU now represents some 455 million people and a combined GDP of 10trillion euros.But even so big a European Union will need to be innovative andentrepreneurial to maintain its position as a major global player. To besure, the European Union will continue its enlargement in terms of memberstates, population and GDP. But other parts of the world, Asia in particular, are growing much faster.The Asian region already produces 23 percent of global GDP, and the share isrising. According to a report by Goldman Sachs, the dollar size of theChinese economy will have surpassed that of Britain and Germany by 2007,while India will surpass France by 2020 and Germany by 2023. In the slipstream of this meteoric economic growth, Asia's political ambitions, too, are picking up momentum.We must face up to these realities and invest more in our relationship with Asia. The premise should be that Asia's development is good for Asia, goodfor the EU and good for the world – that is, if the downsides of Asia's rapid growth, such as environmental degradation, rising energy prices, and monetary volatility can be managed.Apart from the need to speak with a single European voice, I see three preconditions on the European side for developing a healthy relationshipwith Asia.First, the EU must ensure that it remains a major economic player. This requires making full use of the internal market and implementing social andeconomic reforms across the EU.Second, we must develop a much more comprehensive dialogue with Asia than we have done so far. Europeans should see our relationship as something more than a zero-sum choice between human rights and trade.And, third, we must articulate our interests and ideas clearly while accepting that we are not in a position to impose them. Relations betweenthe EU and Asia are a matter of give and take.Apart from international trade, there are many other factors that bind Asiaand Europe. We share an interest, for example, in an effective and legitimate multilateral system, with a strong United Nations at its core.Asian countries are increasingly active in UN crisis-management operations.At the same time, some Asian countries have argued that the current UN system works to the advantage of Western countries. It is indeed difficult to see why Asia's representation on the Security Council should not be broadened if an EU with less than half the population of India is to be represented by two, or perhaps even three of its member states.Also, Asia is an indispensable partner in the struggle against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.North Korea and Pakistan have in the past illegally exported knowledge andassets to countries with nuclear ambitions. The conflicts in Kashmir and on the Korean Peninsula have the potential for becoming nuclear conflicts.China's important role in the six-party talks over the Korean crisis deserves the EU's respect and political support. Likewise, the campaign against terrorism cannot be fought successfully without cooperation between the EU and Asian countries.None of this is to suggest that human rights and good governance have losttheir importance. On the contrary. They are universal issues; moreover, theyare preconditions for prosperous and humane democratic societies.At this week's Asia-Europe Meeting summit in Hanoi, the EU again made it clear that we will step up our measures against the Burmese junta if the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not released from custody and if the discrimination and intimidation of ethnic minorities and opposition groups are not brought to an end. Myanmar was not swayed, so the EU will shortly decide on additional measures against the junta.There are many more issues that will be on the Asian-European agenda in theyears to come. One is the fight against poverty, in which Asia plays a pivotal role, given on the one hand its large number of poor people and on the other its success in rapidly reducing that number.Another is climate change and the loss of biodiversity, aggravated by massive deforestation in Indonesia and China, among others. Then there is the rapidly rising global demand for energy and our shared interest in clean technology.There are the cross-border dangers of HIV/AIDS, SARS, avian flu and otherpotentially deadly viral diseases. Another issue is the illegal trafficking of drugs, small arms and human beings, much of it along the ancient Silk Road.All in all, there are plenty of reasons that Europeans should stop thinking of Asia as remote from its shores. The world is getting smaller and even a united Europe is only a relatively small part of that world.But if we speak with a single voice, if we are serious about getting our own economic house in order, and if we are ready for the give and take that comes with any comprehensive dialogue, then we can be optimistic about Europe's chances of being an indispensable partner in the search for global peace and prosperity.Bernard Bot is minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands and presidentof the Council of Ministers of the European Union.

This message was edited by: %s on %s francesca.cammarano, Oct 11, 2004 – 09:49 PM[addsig]




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