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Reaffirming EU-Asia Partnership

by Dr Yeo Lay Hwee (Director, EU Centre)

The Hungarian Foreign Minister, H.E Mr Janos Martonyi will be visiting Singapore in the coming week. During his visit, the Centre will be hosting a lecture by him on 9 November in which Mr Martonyi will share with the audience steps taken by the European Union (EU) to overcome and financial and debt crisis and bring back stability in the Eurozone.  More importantly, his timely visit reminds us of the need for the EU and its member states to step up its engagement with countries in Asia, and look outward. The EU cannot afford to be inward-looking and too self-absorbed even though it has to devote attention to put its house in order.

 

Similarly for Singapore, an open economy with strong trading and investment links with the EU, we need to be kept abreast of what is happening in Europe. With its desire to be the bridge between Asia and Europe, Singapore can play an important role in reiterating the need to strengthen the partnership. One should recall that in 1998 during the height of the Asian Financial Crisis, the 2nd Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) [1] Summit went ahead and Asian and European leaders stood side by side to reaffirm the importance of keeping the dialogue open.  Leaders expressed belief in the ability of the Asian economies to bounce back from the crisis and the ASEM Trust Fund was created to help some of the Asian countries address the issues of restructuring the financial sector and cope with the social impact of the crisis.

 

Several of the Asian countries severely impacted by the Asian Financial crisis have taken painful steps to restructure their economies and strengthen their finances. Hence they were relatively unscathed by the recent global financial crisis and were able to return to positive growth trajectory fairly quickly. Yet, it has also to be acknowledged that a prolonged crisis in the developed economies of Europe would not be good for many Asian countries that continued to rely on exports to the EU and US for their growth.

 

The current rhetoric of the shift of power from West to East is far too populist. What we are witnessing with the current debt crisis and market turmoil is the shift of power from nation states to corporations, from regions to “unfettered and unregulated market forces”.  It is of course undeniable that overall Asia is rising and getting richer while Europe struggles with its debts and economic contraction.  Yet, in a globally connected and highly inter-dependent world, the fates of Asians and Europeans are much more closely intertwined than we might want to admit. Any perception that the rise of one is at the expense of others will not augur well for the future. Global rebalancing and re-distribution will have to take place but the pain can be mitigated if cooperation is strengthened to grow the economic pie.  And this is why it is so crucial for Asia or Europe to step up engagement and forge a new global governance structure that would harness the positive but tame the destructive forces that are unleashed by the global markets to facilitate sustainable growth.

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[1] ASEM is a forum for dialogue between Asia and the Europe initiated by Singapore. The first Summit took place in 1996. The current ASEM partners are the 27 EU member states (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and United Kingdom), the European Commission, the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam), the ASEAN Secretariat, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.​