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Regionalism and InterRegionalism in the ASEM Context: Current Dynamics and Theoretical Approaches

By Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, Director, EU Centre in Singapore & Senior Research Fellow, Singapore Institute of International Affairs, and, Lluc López i Vidal, Political Science Lecturer, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

research-regionalism 

The authors contributed two papers to the CIDOB Asia series that explored how regionalism and interregionism have developed particularly through the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). They presented how and why ASEM came about, its achievements and challenges, and what the alliance must do to remain strategically relevant in the face of a possible resurgence of narrow state-dominated interests and erosion of multilateralism. In the first paper, Dr Yeo Lay Hwee argues that ASEM has lost potency to advance regionalism and Inter-regionalism  due to factors such as its diffused membership, lack of focus and want of a more concrete entente between China and Japan. ASEM has been overshadowed by ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, South Korea), whose framework together with the impetus of the ’97 Asian financial crisis, instead helped advance an East Asian regionalism and North-South Inter-regionalism . ASEM’s usefulness in enhancing the EU-Asia dialogue was further complicated by a lack of clarity as to whether the EU’s relationship with ASEM falls under the CFSP or its external relations umbrella in pillar one, and burgeoning competing forums; EU-China; EU-Japan and EU-ASEAN. Dr Yeo rounded off by proposing issues where ASEM can align its interests regionally and interregionally in order to be of a greater influence on world governance.  Lluc López i Vidal presented a comprehensive sweep of various theories of regionalism and Inter-regionalism . He contrasted the ‘old’ regionalism driven by geographic/historical/socio-cultural proximity, institution building and formal statutes, with the ‘new’ regionalism of Asia driven by economic liberalisation, regulated by ‘soft’ laws and deferred to preservation of state sovereignty. Vidal evaluates ASEM’s contribution as a power-balancer, agenda-setter and builder of both the Asian identity and the EU’s actorness in a globalised world. So far, ASEM has not been able to “forge a common position to take to multilateral organisations” such as the WTO or UN and Asia “still suffers from a lack of regional awareness”. ASEM is at risk of losing momentum and global significance. Hence cross-cutting issues such as climate change, terrorism, human rights, “must continue to find a place on the ASEM agenda”. Vidal closed with areas of further research, taking into account evolving regional and interregional connections.