Experts urge Europe to look toward Asia-Pacific

Updated: 2011-12-05 06:55

By Zhang Haizhou and Hu Yinan (China Daily)

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BEIJING / LONDON - As the world's center of gravity shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region, concerns are growing in Europe that the former center of global geopolitics may be sidelined.

European politicians and analysts have urged Europe to shift its focus increasingly toward the Asia-Pacific, following Washington's strategic adjustment toward the region.

The rationale for Europe today is about power, which, in one aspect, is about being "able to play in a world that will otherwise be dominated by America and China", said former British prime minister Tony Blair.

A "strong Europe" is needed to leverage the collective power of European states, all of which are relatively small in size, Blair said in Beijing last week.

"Unless you come together, your individual countries - and that includes the UK - are not going to be strong enough," said Blair.

Commenting on what the US' ongoing policy shift towards the Asia-Pacific means for Europe, Blair said Washington "has always had a strong presence in this part of the world and continues to do so".

One of the things a strong Europe can do, he said, is to help the relationship work between the United States and China.

"I believe the relationship between America and China - a good and strong working relationship - is a vital part of making the world work today," Blair said.

As Europe's sovereign debt crisis intensifies, US President Barack Obama's foreign policy shift toward Asia - later acknowledged by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who said the 21st century "is going to be a Pacific one" - has left many in Europe worried.

In a speech on Nov 9, Van Rompuy declared that Europe has a major role to play in the Asia-Pacific region, both as a trading partner and as "a potential major factor contributing to (Asia's) stability".

He emphasized that this "should also be reflected in higher political attention paid to and political activity shown in the region".

The European Union was not invited to last month's ASEAN and East Asia summits in Indonesia, which the US and Russia took part in for the first time.

The absence has left the 27-nation bloc sitting on the sidelines in arguably what is the most important region, while its major ally and trading partner, the US, asserts a stronger foreign policy role there.

This was not the only important conference the EU has been absent from in the region.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has not attended any major multilateral meeting in Asia since taking up the post in 2009.

It is "essential" that Ashton attends the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) "each year", Frans-Paul van der Putten, senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations (Clingendael) in The Hague, wrote in a Nov 17 article on the

"Ashton cannot afford to stay away from the ARF, given that the ARF is the only major trans-Pacific forum of which the EU is a member," he wrote in the opinion article.

"While the EU cannot be a trans-Pacific power, it should strengthen its visibility in this strategically crucial region with a focused and active Asia policy."

Suggesting the EU should also cooperate closely with the US to "strengthen its economic competitiveness", Van der Putten, however, suggested the 27-nation bloc "adopt a neutral stance with regard to US security policy in Asia".

Obama said during his recent visit to Australia that the US was "stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific".

Up to 2,500 US Marines will deploy in Australia in the coming years.

Hillary Clinton last week visited Myanmar, the first trip by a US secretary of state in more than 50 years.

Tom Kane, a senior lecturer in International Politics at Britain's University of Hull, said he thinks the US "is likely to continue to balance its Asian interests against its European ones".

During World War II, the US government formally agreed to give Europe priority over Asia and the Pacific, "but, in practice, fought actively in both areas of operations from the very beginning", he said.

"Happily for all concerned, it will usually be able to cooperate productively with Europe and Asia, both at the same time," Kane added.