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The EU’s approach towards Asia: regional cooperation and regional conflicts in the past and today


Within the context of EU-Asia relations, the EU has tried to export its regional integration model for decades. As regards this, the ASEAN has been the natural partner of the EU. This article gives an overview on how the EU has linked its regional integration efforts with the intention of transforming regional conflicts in the (East) Asian region in the past and today. It shows that the EU has in the past relied on active model setting and positioning in order to “export” its regional integration approach. Recent developments, however, show that this approach has been abandoned. Although there has been a recent increase in EU policy papers on the region, the EU is currently embracing a rather soft approach based on socialization efforts when it comes to East Asian conflict issues. The paper concludes by stating that this is both the result of a cautious EU “shying away” from adopting any precise position on pressing Asian security issues and of an adaptation of the EU approach towards a more modest modus operandi of mutual “sharing of experiences and best practices.”

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  1. Regional integration (RI) is understood in a broad sense within this article. I conceive efforts of regional cooperation as being the first steps, possibly leading towards different forms of RI in the context of this analysis.

  2. When speaking of the EU’s approach towards Asia in this article, I refer to East Asia including Southeast Asia.

  3. While “changing context" has been described as an effect of the socialization pathway in the introduction, arguing from an EU perspective, it makes sense to further explore the aspect of the EU’s efforts of changing the rules of interaction among its Asian partners. I therefore use it as a separate path here which shows how the EU is directly promoting such new rules, e.g. by its strategy papers for the region.

  4. The ASEAN Charter foresees further institutionalization and the completion of ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.

  5. Initially, the other partners were Japan, South Korea, and the US. The reactors were part of the US-North Korea Agreement of 1994 (Wit et al. 2005: 2) and resulted in the creation of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), which the EU joined in 1997.

  6. The Treaty is a non-aggression and cooperation pact between ASEAN members and their partners. It is a precondition for joining the security relevant East Asia Summit (EAS) (ASEAN 1976; EEAS 2012b).

  7. With the exception of the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea. As has been shown, the EU approach to this ‘hard issue’ consists of a quite cautious rhetorical support.

  8. The lack of the US ratification of the UN Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS) puts the EU in theory in the position of a leading third party for this conflict issue (Duchâtel and Huijskens 2015:7).


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Scherwitz, E. The EU’s approach towards Asia: regional cooperation and regional conflicts in the past and today. Asia Eur J 14, 367–382 (2016).

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