Europe’s Unity can be an Example for a Fractured Asia

Considering the results, predictions for the future are easy to make: the 21st century will mark the economic ascension of Asia, or at least of its easternmost component. This conviction has become a mantra, a prophecy destined for self-fulfillment. The data supports this trend: population, territory, and economic growth. Growth can be subdivided into its main components, where Asia also reigns supreme: trade, investment, consumption, and accumulation of wealth. The economic crisis has given this prediction great credibility, especially in Europe. Even the latest episode in the ongoing saga – the lowering of the BCE’s interest rates, which were already close to zero – show that the Old Continent is struggling to breathe. At the same time, Asia shows no weakness in its forward progress. It continues to grow, and it now houses fully three of the four largest economies in the world in terms of GDP and buying power – China, India, and Japan. It appears to be an epochal shift, but is economic power alone sufficient to precipitate this change? Can the absence of political integration in Asia be ignored, or will it be necessary to find a more stable solution? Europe chose multilateralism decades ago, and it has produced varying results but mostly positive ones. Despite the current crisis and limited regional conflicts, Europe has lived in relative peace, democracy, and prosperity. It has lost much of its economic prestige, but it is still a model to be considered. Asia, on the other hand, has not married political progress with its economic success, because this success is often based on bilateral relationships that are often limited and favourable only to one side. Fear of losing sovereignty and the unchallenged power of the state has prevailed, stemming both from the collective memories of ancient cultures and the more recent scars of bitter fights for independence. Asia is crisscrossed with various agreements and treaties, but none have the vision of the European Union, the African Union, or the Organization of American States. The economy – mainly international commerce – is at the base of all Asia’s accords. Freedom of movement of goods and the attraction of investment are the mainstays, buttressed by liberalism and international cooperation. In this context ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, is the closest example, even if its effectiveness ends the borders of each member thanks to one basic principle: non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Ironically, the three great industrialized economies of North East Asia find their best occasion for dialogue in the ASEAN+3. China, Japan, and South Korea have long been divided by virtually permanent conflict, the bellicose memories of which have yet to be erased from the context of economic collaboration. Politics and shared security have therefore had nothing to do with Asia’s resurgence. Not by coincidence do Asia’s military tensions remain unresolved. A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, these tensions still threaten Asia, where a large scale rearmament is underway that makes Asia the only continent with growing defense expenditures. China, ever the paladin of its “Peaceful Rise,” carries on territorial disputes with almost all of its neighbors. China’s recent good relations with Russia are the exception, and will likely be only fleeting as China’s territorial claims against Russia remain, part of a panorama of territorial claims that stretches to the South China Sea. The Taiwan issue is not over, nor is the historical animosity between Seoul, Pyongyang, and Tokyo, and military opposition between India and Pakistan is still active. Tensions between China and Vietnam and the Philippines are also coming to light in dramatic fashion. Most recently, India has seen a worrying diplomatic (and military) escalation with neighboring China. The lack of an international organization with the ability to mediate is one of the main causes for the delay in peaceful resolution. Europe could be a fine example, if only nationalism, diffidence, and short-term interests were to lose their prominence. Maybe in regression in its economic scope, and probably searching for better political integration, Europe can offer its experience in multilateralism for resolving conflicts, on the condition that Asia, but most importantly China, be ready to consider that the economy alone is insufficient. The inherent competitive advantages that Asia holds over Europe are evident, but how long can this last in the absence of a stable and peaceful framework? What economic value can be assigned to the context of peace and serenity that Europe has been able to create around themselves? Knowing this, at the very least, young Europeans can be satisfied and look to the future with newfound pride and confidence.