“Asia’s Century” International Project 2022 – 2027 was launched in Bucharest late March by a consortium of think-tanks consisting of the Bucharest-based MEPEI (Middle East Political and Economic Institute), Eurodefense Romania and ICI (National Institute for Research & Development in Informatics), together with the Ljubljana-based IFIMES (International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies), and the Vienna-based AIES (Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy) and Culture for Peace. It was supported by a numerous live and online audience, consisting of ambassadors and representatives of Asia’s (and MENA) embassies, academics, researchers and media.
To explain the goal of their project, the organizers quoted several Western thinkers who emphasized the propensity towards superiority of the Western world which created “a global order for the benefit of the West”, and they explained “the need for the EU to work towards an in-depth understanding of Asia, as well as the need for Asia to develop a better understanding of the EU’s complexity and diversity and the potential of cooperation.”
Sven Biscop from Egmont Foundation underlined that “The superiority complex is hard to cure. Nobody in Europe is longing for a return to empire…Most Americans still pretend they never even had an empire. But Europeans and Americans that we are entitled to dominate international politics and that it is perfectly natural that the EU and the US are the wealthiest places on Earth. We feel that we have merited this through our hard work – the implication being that if other people are less well off, they have merited that also. The reality is, of course, that we created the international order to our economic benefit.”. Under the current circumstances of increasing global interdependences, there is a need for the EU to overcome its “superiority complex.”
“Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes”, said Anis Bajrektarevic from IFIMES, keynote speaker during the event. Prof. Bajrektarevic reminded us that “there is no country in Asia without at least 2 border conflicts”, and that hence “Asia is not like Europe which architecture itself on the spirit of Helsinki”. He also stressed that “globalization favours the strong and the fast, while multilateralization provides the same footing for a slower and the weak”, and that “trade and economic relations do not necessarily prevent war, as we have already seen in the eve of both WWI and WWII”. In his words “we must all acknowledge that peace requires a comprehensive setting based on mutual understanding and good on-going communication ‘domesticated’ in the house of pan-continental multilateralism.” Concussively, prof. Bajrektarevic invited participants: “Let us help Asia in their ‘Asian Century’ but let us not forget us – our continent needs recalibration – hence, let us extend this project for additional leg – ‘Europe in Asian Century’”.
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Werner Fasslabend from AIES, former Austrian minister of Défense, also declared the 21st century to be “the Asian century”, if not “the Indo-Pacific century”, where China will play a major role, especially with its OBOR/ Belt and Road Initiative in which the maritime corridor will have a vital role, since 70% of the world is covered by water and 90% of the world trade is done by sea. Fasslabend also stressed the importance of the Asian powers that are technological leaders and of the Asian markets that are very useful for Europe because they are huge. His only concern is whether “Europe will be able to take part in this huge Asian development.”
Adrian Severin, Romanian former minister of foreign affairs and former European parliamentarian, reminded that “the West imposed its power on the others, the US imposed Pax Americana but America no longer has the strength to promote the American Dream and a new world order. It’s not our job to tell the Asian countries what to do but it’s our interest to look at Asia. We should look at Asia with Euro-Atlantic eye-glasses”, concluded Severin.
Viorel Isticioaia-Budura, former Romanian ambassador to China and former Head of Asia-Pacific Department of the European External Action Service of the EU, deplored the lack of action of the EU institutions in Asia which he labels as “anaemia of EU institutions under circumstances where the potential exists but the results are rather disappointing.”
“It looks unavoidable that two major regions of the planet, the West and the East, may embark upon a new phase of interaction, seeking a new balance, mutual adjustments and refreshed ideas for partnership, not in the polarizing, but in a spirit that may help to explore possible convergence and mutually beneficial cooperation. An Asian Century does not mean throwing other regions into shadow or letting the West slide into an eclipse. On the contrary, it means a new game. With its high-speed industrialization and urbanization, rising rates of consumption and the dynamic generation of Millenials, Asia looks challenging.”
Isticioaia-Budura put forward the idea that “there is already an economic order in Asia with China leading it.” Indeed, starting with January, 1, 2022, the world’s largest trade agreement ever, the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), initiated by China, entered into force. It will facilitate trade among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. RCEP will cover about 30% of global GDP and nearly a third of the world’s population, about 2.2 billion people.
According to Flavius Caba-Maria, director of MEPEI, the goal of this “Asia’s Century” International Project 2022 – 2027 is “to understand the mutual needs and interests between Europe and Asia, to stimulate the interest of officials, business people towards Asia, and to raise the public awareness, especially of the young generation, about Asia” because “in 2040, Asia will have had 50% of the world population and 40% of the global consumption, and in 2050, 3 billion Asians will live at European standards. In 2030, China will be the first economic power of the world. China may lead the process of Asianization and we are now wondering how the Asia-led global order will be like.”
Liviu Muresan from Eurodefense Romania, co-organizer of the event, informed the participants that “Asia’s Century” International Project 2022 – 2027 will have a regular Asian Club organized monthly in downtown Bucharest and he will make efforts to organize multi-level cross-sectorial visits across Asia to bring together all the parties interested in extending their pan-Asian relations with concrete outcome on the ground.
The follow up to this launch is expected in a due time. Numerous entities from Europe and Asia signalled their willingness to join soon. Among them are segments of the Vienna Process; such as the Vienna-based Culture for Peace and the Brussels-based Modern Diplomacy (Compressive Cultural and the Media platform, respectively), as well as the think-tanks, institutes and media houses from southern and southeaster Asia. Consequently, it is to expect that the Project itself will turn into the standing platform of the (Europe in the) Asian Century, transforming itself to the Asian Century Process rather soon.