EU Statements on Security Sound Somewhat Hollow in Asia

Written by | Monday, July 14th, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Professor Paul Joseph Lim (Taiwan Foundation for Democracy)

EUBULLETIN has recently talked in Taipei (Taiwan) to Professor Paul Joseph Lim who is currently an International Visiting Fellow at Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. The exclusive interview touches topics such as EU’s relations with the Asia, EU’s failure to act as a security player in the region, the implications of the Ukrainian crisis on EU’s standing, and the Union’s fear of antagonizing China.

EUBULLETIN: Being a Belgian citizen, you have now also spent several years teaching and researching in the Asian region, including as a professor at two Malaysian universities. As your research has mainly focused on the European Union’s relationship with Asia, could you tell us how political elites in this region view the EU and its position in regional affairs?

P.J.Lim: First of all, EU’s relations with Asia is a subject of great concern among many European leaders and a focus of research for many European academics. However, it is quite telling that it is not an important area of research for academics in Asia. The EU has established many EU Centers at many universities in the Asia-Pacific with the aim to promote European studies. All this is basically to convey the message that Europe is interested in Asia and Europe has a political and economic role to play in Asia.
Economically speaking, Asian countries recognize the EU as an important investor, but Asian countries at the same time do not see the EU as playing a political role. The EU High Representative or European leaders in general can put out whatever statements on political and security issues but in reality it has hardly any relevance. I am not even sure if the Asian governments take notice of these statements coming from Europe.
Why is that? Firstly, it is because the EU does not have, especially when compared with the US, any military standing, any projection of military power in Asia. Therefore, the EU statements on security sound somewhat hollow. Secondly, the reason goes beyond the lack of the EU’s military power. Despite all sorts of changes after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is still far from having a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) which is still in the making and which is still decided on the inter-governmental level.

EUBULLETIN: What are, in your view, the prospects for the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP)?

P.J.Lim: Making the whole situation worse is the fact that individual EU countries actually compete economically and politically in Asia as if they had a weight to throw around. A good example is the UK which sometimes behaves as if it still were a global imperial power. To have an effective CFSP, first of all, EU member states would have to be willing and ready to sacrifice their respective national interests for the sake of a long-term common interest of the whole Union.

EUBULLETIN: This leads me to the question of the recent crisis of Ukraine. How have the political elites viewed and the local media reported about the way the European Union has handled this escalating crisis in its neighborhood?

P.J.Lim: Well, the Asian leaders have paid close attention to the Ukrainian crisis and this was also reflected in the media. They have clearly noticed that the EU was not able to handle the crisis in Ukraine without the United States coming into the picture. The Asians have then questioned whether the EU is following the US policy or if it has its own policy. Also, they are asking how come that the EU member states are not capable of effectively acting together even when facing an external military threat (from Russia). One may well conclude that the Ukrainian crisis effectively further weakened the EU standing in Asia.

EUBULLETIN: On cross-strait relations, would you agree that we can see the EU-China and EU-Taiwan relationship in a triangular perspective?

P.J.Lim: Talking about the CFSP, it is China’s great power that should serve as a major motivating factor for the EU to come and act together. But what we see is that the EU countries prefer to compete in the Chinese market. Every European country wants to get its own special deal and have a special relationship with China. The EU is effectively afraid of China and the EU member states do not want to offend Beijing. Because of that, when it comes to cross-strait relations and Taiwan, the EU’s policy is that each European country can have its own interpretation of ‘one-China-policy’.
As a consequence, when it comes to dealing with Taiwan that has long been interested to have an free trade agreement deal with the European Union, Brussels appears to wait for a ‘green light’ from China. While the European Parliament has been championing an FTA with Taiwan for a long time, the Council of Ministers – meaning the European leaders – has persistently expressed its unwillingness to negotiate an FTA with Taiwan. But as of today, the EU appears to agree to negotiate a bilateral investment agreement with Taiwan, though it is only because it is already in the process of negotiating a bilateral investment agreement in China. Last but not the least, this is clearly reminiscent of the WTO negotiations in late 1990s: although the EU-Taiwan negotiations concluded first, well before the EU’s negotiations with China, in fact, China was admitted into the WTO first, in December 2001, with Taiwan joining some three weeks later, on 1 January 2002.

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