New East, New Powers – Europe in the Asia-Pacific Century

Posted on 22. October 2012

by Heidi Beha

heidi_beha-2012-2015-modifiedIf you are given the secret mission to conquer Asia when you are playing ‘Risk,’ the strategic board game, then you have got quite a job on your hands. It is not an easy card to play. After all, you are being asked to conquer twelve regions from Ural to Siam and from the Middle East to Kamchatka. This is far more complicated than to seizing Africa or South America, not only on account of the number of countries your troops have to occupy, but also because on the ‘Risk’ game board Asia can be attacked in a variety of ways. In the recent past many global powers seem to have been given a difficult card to play, and that is because we have been told that we are now in the Asia-Pacific Century. But it is surely encouraging that in modern foreign policy success is no longer measured in terms of the number of soldiers that are stationed in a particular region.

Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2012

Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2012

So this may be a good time to underline the importance of mutual understanding. Economic and political influence can go hand in hand with civil society activities, the establishment of personal networks, and interaction between ordinary citizens. China is a good example of this. In the course of the last decade European foundations, universities, companies and state actors have initiated numerous activities designed to encourage people to get in touch with each other. And the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to a Chinese author who lives in China. Perhaps this is a sign that the eurocentric approach is on the way out, and that there is now a greater willingness to interact with dissimilar social and political systems.Furthermore, it may not be entirely correct to refer to Asia as the “New East.” After all, what Christopher Columbus and the Europeans of his time called the “New World” was not as new as they thought. And by using the term for countries such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Thailand, we may be missing the point. This may not be how these peoples and governments see themselves. They might consider it to be more appropriate to be seen as countries with a long history which have been important powers in the Pacific region for decades. Therefore it would be a good idea in both Europe and in Southeast and Northeast Asia to add new chapters to the history books used in schools and to create far more exchange programmes for people from all walks of life. This soft power strategy rules out the idea conquering Asia. However, the whole idea of finding areas of common ground is going to make the game far more complicated. But in the long run we will all turn out to be winners.

This statement was posted first at the website of the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2012 by the Körber Foundation.