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The EU's role in security and regional order in East Asia




Dr Yeo Lay Hwee (Director, EU Centre in Singapore) has recently published a chapter on “The EU’s role in security and regional order in East Asia” in the book entitled Power Transition and International Order in Asia (Routledge, 2014).

In this chapter, Dr Yeo looked at the ambition of the EU to become a global actor by examining the relationship between EU and ASEAN and the East Asian countries and the kind of influence that the EU may have on security in East Asia and the emerging regional order. The EU sees itself as a normative power, peddling soft power and influencing its partners through dialogue and cooperation. Its position as the largest trading bloc despite its debt crisis, and its “purchasing power” as a single market has no doubt equipped it with the economic might to wield considerable influence. The EU has emerged as the top trading and investment partner in many of the East Asian countries. It has extensive dialogue and cooperation in many areas from human rights, the environment to climate change and anti-terrorism. But still, because of the lack of strategic coherence and hard power in a region where traditional security issues and balance of power politics remain salient, its role and influence has remained limited.

The EU in 2012 has attempted to project a strategy of intensifying exchanges and deepening dialogues with all its key partners in East Asia. Understanding the importance of the US as a pre-eminent player in the region with a far greater political and security presence, the EU has also stepped up engagement with the US to pursue common action in the Asia-Pacific. This, however, has come at a sensitive time with increasing competition between a “weakened” US and a rising, more assertive China.

US-Sino relationship looms large in East Asia where the rise of China is most keenly felt. How this bilateral relationship is managed will be the key to the emerging regional order in East Asia and the broader Asia-Pacific region. The US security presence is necessary but no longer sufficient for ensuring the security of the region. And while this insufficiency is recognised by most, there is not yet a consensus as to what should be put in place to complement or supplement the US security guarantee, and this is also the reason for the emergence of a patchwork of alliances and a proliferation of regional security architectures. The EU is also onto this and has therefore stepped up both bilateral and inter-regional linkages. How much an impact it could make will ultimately be a confluence of internal and external forces – but perhaps more as a function of its own internal coherence and strategic thinking.

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