Europe's Incomplete Pivot to Asia
A rising Asia, led by an authoritarian China that could soon emerge as the world’s largest economy, threatens to eclipse the global liberal order and Europe’s privileged position within it. In contrast, the democratic quality of emerging Asian powers like India and resilient ones like Japan suggests that a resurgent Asia could also naturally partner with Europe to safeguard an open and pluralistic international system in which China is a stakeholder. In recent years, Europe has made a partial pivot to Asia, but it remains underdeveloped and incomplete. While the United States has long had a Pacific orientation, it is time for Europe to develop a full-spectrum Asia policy to shape the emergence of the world’s future center of wealth and power in a way that reinforces peace, pluralism, and prosperity. Europeans will find that their strength and influence are magnified by pivoting towards Asia in ways that reinforce the transatlantic alliance, given the United States’ existing role in the region, rather than in ways that risk undermining it.
America has been a Pacific power for several centuries and has recommitted to leadership in Asia through its “rebalance” to the region. By contrast, beyond a narrow commercial agenda, Europe is far behind, with the EU’s Asia policy often consisting of little more than a trade-promotion agenda with China and other Asian economies. This is surprising given that European powers were dominant strategic actors in Asia until only about 70 years ago. The European Union’s absence as a strategic player in Asia makes little sense given its stake in the region’s political and economic evolution. After all, Asia’s ascendance is a global phenomenon, not simply a regional one, as attested by the impact of China’s and India’s rise on global energy markets, trade and investment flows, global governance, security, and development—all areas where Europe has core interests. And Europeans do have influence in the East; to take but one example, the European Union is China’s largest trading partner.