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The Origins and Development of ASEM and EU-East Asia Relations

Chapter contribution (pp. 102-121) by Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, Director, EU Centre to “Europe and Asia: Regions in Flux”, edited by Philomena Murray, Palgrave Macmillan (2008)

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Three regions of economic power- North America, Europe and East Asia- are projected to dominate global trade and investment well into the 21st Century. Yet in this triangle, the Europe-East Asia relationship is seen as the weakest link of the three. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was conceived to develop dialogue and cooperation between the European Union and East Asia. It has been touted as the most ambitious framework for EU-East Asia relations. Yet questions remain as to whether ASEM has strengthened relationships between the two blocs and contributed tangibly to global governance. The book chapter explains the constellation of forces that led to ASEM’s establishment. These include the end of the Cold War ideological battle in Asia, the strategic interests of Singapore and the EU, the challenge of globalisation, as well as business and market factors. It charts ASEM’s development since inception and evaluates its progress in face of competing frameworks, such as the EU-ASEAN, EU-China, EU-Japan and EU-Korea dialogue, incongruent priorities of the EU and East Asians, and complexity of the EU and ASEM’s own enlargements. With the other strands of EU-East Asia engagement likely to gain momentum, the paper questions if a new partnership can be forged where EU-East Asia relationship can grow through a multi-layered and multi-pronged approach. It presents two keys for ASEM to unlock its importance as an interregional forum and help shape world order.