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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: October 18, 2010 NO. 42 OCTOBER 21, 2010
A Poor Model
In the midst of an international power shift, Asian nations must find their own way
The vast majority of the population in India, however, is under 25. For all its challenges with poverty, it is a country that is beginning to produce high GDP growth rates and build a middle class with the kind of consumer needs that once existed in the West. China has even greater potential. Estimates of its middle class vary from 50 million to 200 million. More and more Western companies are turning to these two huge countries, with their massive populations, when seeking out new markets for their goods. There is now almost universal agreement that in the future, global growth will come from the consumers of Asia.

A fragile union

When they see how little unity there is among members of the EU, many commentators observing the ASEM summit felt irritated with the quality of leadership. In September, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was criticized for sending Roma who had migrated to France back to Romania, despite their legal right to free movement within the EU. The European Commission in Brussels produced a strongly worded condemnation, with one official comparing it to the forced movement of people in World War II. Sarkozy's response was sharp and angry. How, he simply asked, could the commission start dictating what was in the national interest of individual countries?

Such an argument demonstrates just how fragile unity in the EU can be. People began to wonder how the EU could have the arrogance to say it was the most advanced and best example of regional integration, and tell the world to follow its model. As one Russian commentator pointed out, the EU only came into existence after World War II with huge support, both politically and financially, from the United States. The union was designed specifically for Europe and there was little point pretending that this could be exported easily elsewhere.

This is an important message to the EU. It needs to be much more modest about its relevance as an international model. Any Asian regional integration will face a completely unique set of challenges, and find its own path. The vastly different histories, cultures, social structures and economies mean the Asian states would need to find tangible benefits in order to work together like the EU. And while Asian countries have been happy to make free trade agreements, as ASEAN signed a comprehensive package with China in early 2010, a deeper cooperation which might lead to a combined military force remains unthinkable. As one Indian participant in the ASEM meeting said, "There is no way that one could combine China and India's security concerns so their differences would disappear. The best model is the one that exists now, where they can cooperate in areas they both want to, and leave the more difficult issues out."

One major point of discussion at the summit was the reformation of global organizations' infrastructure. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization are all undergoing structural revisions. As a result of the economic crisis, there is now acknowledgement that the former stake-holding model, with very limited involvement by developing countries, is no longer in the international best interest. The Group of 20, coming up at the end of the year, will be the final large international meeting before proposals to reform the structure of international bodies are put forward, and then implemented from 2011 onward. It is likely that the role of member states of the EU is going to be reduced, in favor of developing nations.

Changing times

In the EU, there is at least a pragmatic acknowledgement that this step is right, however disadvantageous it may seem. Continuing forward with a settlement based on an Asia which was only a small part of global GDP would be a recipe for disaster as the region becomes stronger and stronger. In the past, the EU often lectured and argued with China, but that is likely to change, as well. There is now far more talk of technical partnerships between the two, and of greater trade cooperation.

Two things happened around the ASEM summit, which were symbolic of the changing times. First, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Greece prior to his Brussels trip in early October aroused great interest, in particular due to his promise to support the euro by buying euro bonds, and his willingness to demonstrate support for Chinese investment in Greece. This followed a Chinese delegation led by Minister of Commerce Chen Deming in April, which also looked at buying significant Greek assets. This shows that, despite the EU's pessimism, at least in Chinese eyes there are good reasons to want the EU to continue to be strong and show leadership.

By far, the most covered story of the summit was the brief meeting between Wen and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, in which the two discussed for the first time the events following the detainment of a Chinese ship and its captain and crew by Japanese coast guards in September. Even at ASEM, it seems, the eyes of the world are focused on the Asian parties. Europe is left trying to continue its complex, and now far more modest, modernization. In doing so, it has shown that any form of transnational integration is hard, very precarious work.

The author is a senior fellow with Chatham House, London

(Viewpoints in this article do not necessarily represent those of Beijing Review)

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