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European perspectives towards the rise of Asia: contextualising the debate


To what extent can we speak of a distinctively ‘European’ security approach towards the Asia-Pacific region? In order to address that timely question, this article examines how Britain, France, Germany and the European Union (EU) are framing their evolving security roles in the Asia-Pacific region, and how those individual perspectives intersect with each other. The article identifies a number of important common features in Europe’s approaches towards security in the Asia-Pacific, namely the tendency of most European actors to emphasize the economic and diplomatic nature of their contribution to regional security, their promotion of regional multilateral security fora, their rejection of the notion that China’s rise is inherently challenging for regional and global security, and their willingness to signal their differences towards Washington’s emphasis on military power and alliance-based approach. However, and despite the existence of common traits, individual European actors show different degrees of closeness vis-à-vis the US and China and feature different perspectives regarding which security relationships they should prioritize in the region (if any), or the appropriate balance between diplomacy and security and defence cooperation. Such divergences prevent Europeans from developing a coherent security profile in the region and preclude us from speaking of a distinctively European security approach towards the Asia-Pacific.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Author’s interview with UK defence official in London, 17 December 2014.

  2. 2.

    Author’s interview with UK defence official in Brussels, 14 January 2015.

  3. 3.

    Author’s interview with UK defence official in Brussels, 14 January 2015.

  4. 4.

    Authors’ interviews with various French defence foreign policy and defence officials in Paris, May 2014-May 2015.

  5. 5.

    Authors’ interview with French defence official in Paris, 19 May 2014.

  6. 6.

    Author’s interviews with multiple European officials in Tokyo and Seoul, Nov 2014.

  7. 7.

    Authors’ interviews with multiple French defence foreign policy and defence officials in Paris, May 2014-May 2015.

  8. 8.

    Author’s interview with French Asia expert in Tokyo, 19 November 2014.

  9. 9.

    Author’s interviews with multiple Japanese foreign and defence policy officials in Tokyo, November 2013.

  10. 10.

    Authors’ interviews with multiple German foreign and defence policy officials in Brussels, May 2014-May 2015.

  11. 11.

    Interview with multiple Japanese officials in Tokyo and Brussels, November 2014-January 2015.

  12. 12.

    Authors’ interview with EU official in Brussels, 24 April 2015

  13. 13.

    Authors’ interview with EU official in Brussels, 27 November 2014.

  14. 14.

    Authors’ interview with EU official on 24 September 2015.

  15. 15.

    The EU has repeatedly expressed its interest to be included in these regional organizations, both of which include Russia and the US (Council of the European Union 2015).


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The authors would like to thank the editors, the anonymous reviewers and Michael Reiterer for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

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Correspondence to Luis Simón.

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Simón, L., Klose, S. European perspectives towards the rise of Asia: contextualising the debate. Asia Eur J 14, 239–260 (2016).

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  • European Union
  • Regional Security
  • Territorial Dispute
  • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
  • Security Cooperation