More active & intense EU-Asia relations

Asean_EUShada Islam gives us a useful summing up of where EU-Asia relations are headed, and offers some proposals on how to go further:

Not yet a “pivot” – but EU-Asia relations get more active and intense

Shada strikes a sober tone -

“Developing a truly European strategy for sustained engagement with Asia, however, will require more than a few discussions, visits and communiques.  EU policymakers need to undertake a more in-depth reflection of Europe’s many interests, significant strengths and weaknesses in dealing with a more self-confident Asia.  Yes, there is a marked improvement in EU-Asia engagement-and this should be celebrated. But much still remains to be done.”

Indeed. For all the talk of ‘strategic’ this and ‘comprehensive’ that in this article and in the official documents, most of the EU action is still about trade and investment. So-called ‘non-traditional’ security may play to EU strengths, but I can’t help wondering – how much interest can it excite from Asian nations with increasingly serious ‘traditional’ security worries?

This reminded me of another article on ‘friends of Europe‘ by former EU Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou, who takes quite a different view -

‘…in order to restart, Europe needs decisions and leaders, and in reference to Europe’s international influence, this means engaging simultaneously in a soft, smart and also hard power game.”

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EU and Japan to deepen foreign and security partnership at 19 November summit

HR Ashton shaking hands with Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida

HR Ashton shaking hands with Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida

“We agreed that the forthcoming EU-Japan Summit Summit …would take place on 19 November in Tokyo. We expect it to focus on three themes: how to build upon and sustain the economic revival we are now seeing on both sides, and the contribution this will make to stabilising the global economy; how to build a closer partnership on foreign and security policy; and what we do to take forward our shared global interests

(emphasis added)

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Europe siding with Japan in islands dispute?

Senkaku_Diaoyu_Tiaoyu_IslandsHere is an interesting article written by James Brady on Open Asia about European attitudes towards the Japan/China contest over those islands:

Subtle but supportive: Reading Europe’s response to Japan’s Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute with China

James recons that:

“in the court of public opinion (at least, as far as it is reflected in the mainstream media), sympathy seems to lie largely with Japan”

What is interesting is that this is coming less from any legal or normative position on the dispute itself, and much more from a comparison of the domestic treatment of the issue in China and Japan. The violence seen in the public response in China has generated sympathy for Japan.

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European runners in the race for defence partnership with Vietnam

Viet AshtonFor at least the past three generations, Vietnam has been a serious noise in Asian security. You might think that throwing off the Japanese, the French and then the USA was impressive enough. With its large educated population and cohesive national culture, Vietnam then threatened to dominate the rest of continental S. E. Asia, prompting a  military intervention by neighbor and historical rival China in 1979. The war in Cambodia and the demise of its Soviet patron brought isolation, but this ended in the late 1980s, when Vietnam began to opened up again. Soon it entered ASEAN and took its place in the global economic supply chain.

When it comes to contemporary Asian security, Vietnam is again in the thick of it. Its location gives it unique  geopolitical significance with a border with China, deep port facilities and long coastline on the South China Sea (SCS). Economic growth is supplying the means for military modernization. Gas reserves give it a stake in deals with the big commercial and sovereign energy firms. Its weight in ASEAN is enough to sway other nations in the region. It is becoming the pivotal middle power in the regional balance.

As in the past, tension with China is a persistent theme, but this time Hanoi’s strategic approach is different. As Sr. Lt Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh expressed it at the Shangri La dialogue in 2013 -

“It is clearly seen that the trend for cooperation, including the Asia-Pacific defence cooperation, takes place more vigorously than any other regions in the world. A few decades ago, the cooperation was limited to some countries, mainly bilateral ones or in some particular spheres. However, the defense cooperation has nowadays been expanded multilaterally and in various areas. Even some nations which used to face contradiction or confrontation are now moving forward to the defense cooperation more obviously. Thanks to this trend, we have made massive progress in confidence building and preventive diplomacy, which is a key factor to reduce the risks of conflicts and contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific for more than 3 decades.”

Partnerships with others in the Asia-Pacific are very much a part of it (with the USA, Russia, India, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines and, yes, China), but Europe is also included. Hanoi’s growing network of defence cooperation and security relations promises to tell us something very interesting about Europe’s emerging role in Asian security. Here is a sample of recent evidence on the number of European nations cementing defence ties with Vietnam:










Although the EU has restricted its role in SCS security to mediation, it has  become a major partner with Vietnam in the economic sphere. Here are a couple of extracts from a very useful article “Vietnam’s strategic hedging vis-à-vis China: the roles of the European Union and Russia” :

Pressed to diversify its investments in order to prevent itself from being exploited and dominated by Chinese investors, Vietnam has been seeking more investments coming from the EU. The EU has been attributed a special role in this regard, as the total FDI inflow to Vietnam coming from the EU between 2002 and 2009 amounts to US$ 4,7 billion (as compared to US$ 649,9 million coming from China), which makes the EU the second largest external investor in Vietnam, just after the US.40 In 2011, the EU’s FDI in Vietnam was US$ 32 billion, encompassing 1,687 projects41, which amounted to more than 12% of Vietnam’s total FDI.42 This was ten times bigger that the FDI coming from China, which covered 805 projects with a total pledged investment capital of US$ 3.184 billion. This position of the EU has been reinforced in 2012, with an FDI record of US$ 1 billion.43 The EU has also remained the main provider of development aid to Vietnam.

The subtext here is that Vietnam is using investment and trade to draw Europeans into the East Asian geopolitical game:

The EU is currently Vietnam’s second trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to US$ 24.29 billion in 2011. Vietnam’s exports to the EU have increased by 33.5% in 2011. In addition, large EU-based energy companies such as BP have been involved in oil and gas exploitation and drilling in the region. The considerable trade turnover between the European companies and the regional states, including Vietnam, is closely connected to the freedom of navigation and the stability of the SCS. This fact has urged stronger EU engagement in regional security matters, and especially into the maritime security in the SCS. Along these lines, whilst it is clear that the EU’s economic presence in the SEA is growing at a fast pace, it is also true that this circumstance has been particularly promoted by the Vietnamese authorities since it enhances the country’s capacity to address the complex challenges and pressures stemming from the rise of China.

This is a dimension of Vietnam’s broad “equidistancing” strategy (expressed by its policy on Cam Ranh bay here):

Regarding the Itar-Tass’s question about the use of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh military naval port, General Phung Quang Thanh reiterated Vietnam’s viewpoint that the country does not let any country set its military base there. The country will build a logistic service centre, managed by Vietnam, to receive trading and military vessels from other countries to come for repair or maintenance services and provide logistic – technical, relaxation, and health services for the crews, based on economic contracts signed with them.

Brussels clearly feels it is worth investing in this relationship. In June this year they launched the EU-Vietnam strategic dialogue facility to support the EU – Vietnam Partnership Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed last year in Brussels.

“Together with a wide range of Vietnamese partners from academia, civil society and government, the facility will allow Europe and Vietnam to exchange best practices and experiences on issues of mutual interest under the PCA. It will fund policy-oriented research and studies and organize conferences, high-level meetings and trainings with European and international experts”.

So it looks like this is the deal on Euro-Asia security relations: the hard security goes bilaterally, the economic and strategic package follows up from Brussels. It could work.


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How Europe arms Asia

Extract from Heritage Foundation Special Report on Asia and the Pacific, October 7 2013

Extract from Heritage Foundation Special Report on Asia and the Pacific, October 7 2013

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Terceira island: future Atlantic base for China?


Location of Terceira island

Location of Terceira island

Is there anything to this story about China feeling out Portugal for use of its base in the Azores?

Terceira: China’s interest in strategic Lajes Field unfolding – Azores

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US calls North Korean missiles ‘an Article 5 threat’, like Syria

Screen shot 2013-08-31 at 23.22.27

In his valedictory speech (June 17 2013 at Carnegie Europe) entitled ‘Renewed Ambitions for NATO’, US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder made the following comment on the relevance of the US Pivot to the alliance [emphasis added]: 

“Contrary to suspicions on this side of the Atlantic, the United States does not intend to pivot away from Europe. Instead, we continue to look to Europe as an essential partner in facing all security challenges, from wherever they may come.

Let me be clear on this point. The United States is not abandoning NATO—our commitment to security in the North Atlantic community is deep and enduring.

But we also see threats looming on the horizon—including from far beyond Europe. North Korean missiles are an Article 5 threat to the United States and Canada just as Syrian missile are an Article 5 threat to Turkey and Europe.

And we want to make sure that we face these threats collectively, as true partners.

So the question is not whether Washington will choose Asia or Europe. As my former boss, Secretary Hillary Clinton, used to say … we Americans know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. The question is whether our NATO Allies will make the commitments necessary to face 21st century dangers together.”

What does that mean in practice? Something in between more ‘strong condemnations‘ and an actual presence in Asia for the alliance (recently ruled out by Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen)?

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What if Europeans compete with ‘Europe’ for closer security and political links to ASEAN?

France's foreign minister Laurant Fabius sits across some flags from the ASEAN Secretary Genera, H.E. Le Luong Minh.

France’s foreign minister Laurant Fabius sits across some flags from the ASEAN Secretary General, H.E. Le Luong Minh.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius visited Jakarta from July 31 to August 2 in an effort to build a bilateral strategic partnership with Indonesia. Fabius also visited the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where he met with Secretary-General (pictured above).

Fabius is the first French Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Indonesia in 17 years, and the speech he gave about French Policy towards Asia during his visit to the ASEAN Secretariat is worth a read. He began with a bit of history (early diplomatic contacts in the 16th century), and culture (art, bread and spring rolls, etc.) before getting down to the geopolitics: Continue reading

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Europe’s undeclared role in Asian security – time to bring the arms trade under strategic control?

eurofighterPeople sometimes ask ‘what should be Europe’s role in Asian security?’, but surely we have first to understand the role European nations and their institutions are already playing.

Something that doesn’t often get discussed (excepting the EU embargo on arms to China) is the increasingly important role played by Europe as supplier of defence equipment and technology to Asia, Continue reading


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British-Japan security partnership in 2013: A new type of Alliance?

Japan's Ambassador to the UK Keiichi Hayashi and UK Foreign Minister William Hague, 4 July 2013

Japan’s Ambassador to the UK Keiichi Hayashi and UK Foreign Minister William Hague, 4 July 2013

The recent signing of defence cooperation agreements between the UK and Japan is stirring memories of old alliances.

“By mentioning the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, I am not seeking merely to dwell on past glories. Surely we had the tragedy of another war which we fought against each other and have always to squarely face. However, we are now nurturing a new partnership in the defence and security areas, which perhaps we can call a new type of alliance” Japan’s ambassador to the UK Keiichi Hayashi, 23 July 2013. (link here)

A new Anglo-Japan Alliance? Certainly there are echoes -

“The focus of international competition is moving steadily towards the Pacific Ocean and… Japan is obliged… to play an ever increasingly [sic] part in the peaceful development of that portion of the globe [cheers]. I sincerely hope … that these friendly feelings and mutual sympathies which have existed between us in the past shall be daily more strongly cemented in the future [cheers].”  Ito Hirobumi, London, 3 January 1902

Conscious of the need to avoid too much Anglo-Japan bias on this blog, I will begin posting more on the emergence of ‘a new type of alliance‘,  at a sibling blog devoted to this question: Anglo-Japan Alliance

Great Game


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