Tag Archives: EU

EU Centre Singapore summarises EU partnerships in Asian security

indexThe European Union Centre in Singapore has published a new background paper that offers a nice summary of the EU’s advance into Asia as security partner, with a provocative title:
The European Union and global security: is the EU becoming the indispensable partner?

Author: Dr. Cesare Onestini, EU Visiting Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy National University of Singapore

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Abe visits Europe, May 2014 – some suggestions

Shinzo Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Europe in May (link). What should he be getting out of this trip?

  1. The idea is to strengthen relations with the European Union , sign a few free trade agreements and finalize the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. Considering Japan’s desire for a more strategic relationship with Europe, why not go a bit further? PM Abe has talked about making some changes in policies that will lead to Japan becoming even more proactive in global peacekeeping efforts, and so far there is little to show for it. UN Peacekeeping is one option, but why not kill two birds with one stone (peacekeeping and Euro-Japan concord) and agree to pursue a Framework Partnership Agreement with the EU that would allow Japanese civilians and members of the Self Defence Forces to participate in EU crisis management missions and operations? Korea is on track to do so, then why not Japan? Approximately two thirds of CSDP efforts are civilian missions, so well within the ‘human security’ paradigm MOFA has supported through the UN. Also, following the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan (an alliance apparently in no hurry to do anything similar again), the EU is still launching missions left, right and centre, and may offer more opportunities for Japan to bond with a European security platform.
  2. To gain international support in light of territorial disputes with China and South Korea and deflect critical remarks from both countries over historical issues, Japan has to start thinking outside the box. This visit is an opportunity to change the narrative from Yasukuni and sex slaves onto something more positive. Abe could counter China’s propaganda offensive by organizing an event in the UK to showcase post-WWII reconciliation between Japan and Great Britain. What if Abe and Cameron together attend a screening of the recent movie based on the true life story of Anglo-Japan reconciliation “The Railway Man”? Abe can give a speech about how Britain and Japan managed to squarely face up to the tragedies of that war and become, united by common values, allies once again. This would have two advantages: (1) refute the image of Abe as being in denial about Japan’s past; and (2) showcase an example of how Japan has managed to rebuild its international relations with an important ally.
  3. Abe is also planning to meet with French President Hollande. This will be interesting because Japan and France have been working hard on their relationship, which is elevated to a 2+2 meeting with a roadmap for security cooperation. This offers a chance to get an indication of which basket (UK, France, EU, V4, NATO) Japan is putting most of its eggs, or if it will continue to distribute them rather evenly across this set.
  4. Abe is set to participate in the Ministerial Council Meeting of the OECD in Paris on May 6 – 7. Events in Ukraine will probably set the atmosphere for this. Russia will be out of the G8. It is a shame for Abe, who wanted to settle the northern islands dispute with Russia and secure an alternative source of hydrocarbon energy supplies from Russia. However, Vladimir Putin has gone too far in Ukraine. Abe has to take a stand on this because (1) that is the essence of his narrative about values (rule of law, democracy, free speech, free market); and because (2) Japan has to back up the present world order in case China starts to feel the rules have changed. OECD is about economies, so maybe hopefully there will be more to talk about than handling the fallout from sanctioning Russia.


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EU approach to Asian security beginning to take shape

EU-Japan meeting 870x370

An article of interest by Maaike Okano-Heijmans and Frans-Paul van der Putten in the Europe’s World site –

The EU should stay its independent course in East Asia

Maaike and Frans-Paul look at recent EU moves and observe that “the EU is not afraid to criticise the major Asian powers when it perceives their actions to be harmful to East Asia’s regional stability… [and] the EU is not taking sides with Japan against China or vice versa”.

Their conclusion:

Gradually and without attracting much attention the European Union is building a strategy on East Asian security affairs that is more focused and ambitious than it has ever been. Even without a military presence in the region the EU can make a difference. The challenge now is for Brussels to keep up its engagement, develop an independent voice and to uphold a long-term commitment to strengthening stability in the region. Asian governments have not hidden their disappointment with the EU about its rather half-hearted approach in the past decades, but may well be willing to give the EU a second chance – one that should not be wasted.

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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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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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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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Europeans at Shangri-la dialogue achieve Woody Allen’s 80%

scarlett-johansson-woody-allen04Woody Allen said that 80% of life is showing up. By that standard, the various European security actors (EU, NATO, a couple of sovereign states) made the grade at this year’s Shangri-la shindig on Asian security.

EU: Cathy Ashton went (first time) and gave a speech in plenary. It was Continue reading


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Bond on North Korea

Out of range, out of mind: Is there a role for Europe in the Korean crisis?” 

What can Europe hope to do about the situation in North Korea? Ian Bond (director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform) has some suggestions (link to full article  here):

“If this becomes a shooting war, Europe’s practical role in Korea will be limited (though European forces may be called on to stand in for US forces in areas closer to home, and some allies may have niche capabilities to offer). But if, as most experts believe, the situation eventually calms down, in the longer term Europeans can help North Korea and the concerned powers to move forward by taking the initiative in four areas. Continue reading

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Germany and ASEAN – Fullerton lecture February 2013

The latest IISS-Fullerton Lecture  (08 February 2013) gave us a speech by the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, entitled:

Europe at a Crossroads: The Path Towards Fresh Growth” (video here)

Half of the speech was devoted to countering the prevailing narrative about Europe being on the way down. Then on security issues, Mr. Westerwelle had this to say Continue reading

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The 2013 Japan-EU Summit – unequal expectations for a “Global Political Agreement”?

EU Japan summit image

The 21st Japan-EU (European Union) Summit will be held in Tokyo on Monday, March 25. What can we expect?

Past performance does not offer much cause for optimism. In 1991 both sides signed the Japan-EU Joint Declaration, which was followed in 2001 with a 10 year Action Plan. Now after more than 20 years since the Declaration not much action has followed. Even the action plan itself expired in 2011.

However, there may be reasons to hope for this relationship to pick up. Japan has Continue reading

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