The EU’s Profile in Northeast Asia

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    • Presentation speakers
      • David Hallinan, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin


    The stated objective of the EU’s New Asia Strategy (NAS) is the ‘strengthening the EU’s political and economic presence across the region … raising this to a level commensurate with the growing global weight of an enlarged EU.’ (COMM, 2001) Throughout much of the 2000s, the EU’s credibility as a strategic collaborator in the region continued to be negatively affected by significant variation in the independent foreign policy agendas of its member states. (Fox & Godement, 2009; Hyde-Price, 2004; White, 2001) The Lisbon Treaty upgrading of the EU’s foreign policy systems and the Partnership Agreement-based attempts at raising the EU’s profile as a political actor in Asia have finally begun to achieve the aims set out in the New Asia Strategy, but with a pronounced concentration and intensification of these efforts in the economically dynamic sub-region of Northeast Asia, focussed on the ‘Big Three’ economies of China, Japan and South Korea. (Calder, 2010) Each of the Northeast Asian Trio has been designated as strategic partners of the Union, with corresponding comprehensive political partnership agreements (PAs) under development. The EU-South Korea FTA (2011), the ongoing EU-Japan FTA negotiations, and the EU-China Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIT), the EU’s first stand-alone investment agreement, are a clear testament to this new intensified engagement, without corresponding levels of effective engagement being achieved elsewhere in Asia. (Elsig & Dupont, 2012; Erixon & Lee-Makiyama, 2010; Lee-Makiyama, 2012) What has been the impact of the development of this intensified strategic engagement in terms of the EU’s profile in Northeast Asia? This paper finds that each of the Big Three has been highly responsive to the advancement of a more coherent and pro-active EU foreign policy agenda, but with differing results. Though still secondary to the US, Japanese and Korean expectations of the EU as a political actor have been significantly upgraded, with a corresponding intensification of political collaboration. (Tsuruoka, 2008; Messerlin, 2012; Mykal, 2011; Nicolas, 2009) In the case of China, the EU continues to be viewed as a key strategic partner in facilitating China’s development, but the Union’s own strategy for inducing political reforms in China is not effectively served by the existing framework. (Casarini, 2009; Hanemann, & Rosen, 2012; Parello-Plesner & Kratz, 2013; Zhang, 2011) Each of the Northeast Asian Trio increasingly views their bilateral ties with the EU as more consequential than that with its individual members.