A tale of two continents

A scholarly work exploring the themes of cooperation between two important poles of the international political economy—the European Union and rising Asia.

EuropeWe are moving towards a new world order: one that lies at the intersections of competing geopolitical narratives on one axis and emerging geoeconomic frameworks on the other. A possible scenario that the world might find itself in is based on multipolarity: a distribution of power in which more than two nation-states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, and economic influence. And if it is a polycentric world that is put under observation, it becomes imperative to analyse the two important poles that will possibly lead the global order change: Europe and Asia.

Given the significance of these regions in the years to come, a body of work that interrogates Europe and Asia’s mutual engagements is of immense significance. It is exactly what Fredrik Erixon and Krishnan Srinivasan’s compilation of scholarly essays, titled Europe in Emerging Asia accomplishes.

The unique proposition of the book is threefold: one, it brings together views of prominent practitioners and academicians who have either been in governments or have closely been associated with public policy issues involving the two regions. Two, it eschews the premise that many previous works on this subject are based on — that it is entirely up to Asia to understand and emulate a postmodern, exemplary formation such as Europe. And three, the book does not substitute China or ASEAN for the whole of Asia, just as it avoids looking at Europe from a solely German or British perspective.

The book comprises of twelve chapters that look at the Europe—emerging Asia dynamic through spatial and functional themes. As a result, along with mandatory chapters on China—Europe and India—Europe relations, there are essays on other important areas as well: Europe and South Asia, Europe and Thailand, and East Europe in Asia. Presciently,  the editors have also included a chapter on the implications of the US pivot towards Indo-Pacific on the Europe—Asia partnership.

In spite of this wide coverage, the book suffers from an exclusion error: by concentrating on economically “emergent” centres of Asia as drivers of the EU—Asia partnership, it misses out on the fact that the EU—Asia partnership might well be just a resultant of what happens between Europe and the not-so-emergent parts of Asia. For instance, the most important public policy challenge for the EU over the last year has been migration from West and Central Asian regions. How that story unfolds will have significant externalities for the Europe—emerging Asia partnership as well.

One of the most notable features of the book is that it offers a plurality of perspectives and stops short of providing broad brushed recommendations for emerging Asia—Europe cooperation. Rather, all chapters ‘start from the understanding that the future of this relationship can neither be an automatic extrapolation from recent developments nor derived from an academic model.’   Thus, on one hand Wang Yiwei’s chapter concludes with the observation that the “China—EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is neither a ‘partnership’ nor ‘strategic’ nor ‘comprehensive’ since EU cannot be regarded as a comprehensive international player in the world system.”  On the other hand, Jin Park is far more optimistic in his chapter on South Korea and Europe relations.

Krishnan Srinivasan’s chapter, appropriately titled Europe and India: Dialogue without Intimacy will be of particular interest to the Indian reader. Srinivasan minces no words when he says that Asia and Europe’s collaboration on an effective and legitimate multilateral system, with a functioning UN at its core is impeded by EU’s reluctance to relinquish the “eccentric” power-sharing structure at the UN. Another important point this chapter drives home is that India, like many other Asian members of the commonwealth still tend to see EU through a British lens. This means that the ongoing “Brexit” debate can have far reaching repercussions on the general directions of EU-emerging Asia as well.

One criticism that can be levelled against the book is that some of the chapters are longer than required—the introductory sections of some chapters describe the domestic political economy of Asian countries in great detail, deviating from the question of relationship with the EU. Secondly, for an important work on an under researched topic, a price tag of Rs 1295 for the Indian edition is on the higher side. These two factors are deterrents for a general reader to access this scholarly work.

Finally, the answer to the question, “how will the European Union look at Asia in the future?” is embedded in how the European Union looks at itself. Currently, the EU is not looked upon as a credible strategic actor. Apart from matters of trade and investment, emerging Asian countries prefer to interact directly with the member-states of the EU and vice-versa. This mode of engagement is likely to continue until the EU transforms itself into a “political union”.

There are no such conceivable pathways of integration in emerging Asia where national identities will continue to be emphasised in the foreseeable future. Emerging Asian nation-states are still embedded in the ‘Westphalian’ structure of governance and will continue to look at Europe from the traditional strategies of balancing or bandwagoning rather than emulating the EU model.

Europe in Emerging Asia: Opportunities and Obstacles in Political and Economic Encounters
Editors: Fredrik Erixon and Krishnan Srinivasan
Publisher: Pentagon Press
Pages: 306
Price: INR 1295