Since the end of the Cold War the EU's relationship with Asia has evolved almost beyond recognition: from relatively low-ranking, undeveloped and scattered, to highly salient, increasingly refined, comprehensive, systematic and coherent. Asia is now firmly positioned on the EU's global agenda. The aim of the paper is twofold: to examine the development of the EU's relationship with Asia since the end of the Cold War; and to explore ways in which the EU could play a more relevant role in Asia. Acknowledging the vast diversity in cultures, histories, languages, socioeconomic and political systems, foremost in Asia but also within the EU, this analysis focuses on three key issue areas: trade, security and the climate. The central argument put forward is that trade is not only essential to economic recovery and sustainable economic growth, but also a vehicle to reach progress on solving security issues, whether traditional or nontraditional. This study also offers evidence of the core ideas that underpin the way the EU engages with the world at large.
The EU–Asia relationship is mainly about trade and investment, issues which are key to global competitiveness and vehicles for social and political change. The EU's priority should therefore be to develop its economic and financial links to Asia.
The conflict in the South China Sea represents one of the biggest traditional security threats to the EU's interests. This is due to its global implications for trade and investment, energy security and the promotion of international law. As a result, the EU should play an active role advocating solutions through bilateral and multilateral channels.
Climate change is the key nontraditional security threat facing both the EU and Asia. Both parties are key contributors to this threat, but they are also critical to its solution. The aim should be a triple-win relationship: a solution beneficial for the EU, Asia and the climate. The strategy should be to focus on the development of low-carbon economies.
China is the most important regional player because of its sheer dimensions (geographic, demographic and economic), and its interconnectedness to all major issues and actors in the area. A comprehensive engagement with China is therefore paramount for the EU.