The idea of a return to Asia reflected the growing economic and strategic influence of the Asia Pacific region, particularly in the light of the failure of Western markets and the continuing rise of Chinese economic power. Europe too has begun to reconsider the state of its relations with East Asia. This view has gained a high level of support from European Asia-watchers and politicians, not least the EU High Representative herself. In the 1990s, the EU launched a ‘new strategy’ towards the East Asian region, and participated in the establishment of the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 1996. This chapter examines this apparently renewed European approach to Asia, within the context of inter-regional relations through the ASEM framework, and as a European tool for the collective management of external relations with Asia. It is argued that weak institutional structures combine with a rise in the number of bilateral agreements and contentious intra-regional dynamics within Asia and Europe, thereby diluting the effect of any EU pivot. Inter-regionalism should thus be regarded as an issue and process-led form of managing foreign policy, rather than a general narrative for understanding relations among regions today.
This chapter examines the extent to which a reordering of security boundaries is either desirable or possible in East Asia. Scholarship on regionalism in East Asia has begun to engage with the changing profile of security agenda. The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) tends to be cited as the only security arrangement in the Asia-Pacific. However, ASEAN Plus Three (APT) cooperation began in December 1997 when leaders of ASEAN joined an informal summit with their counterparts from Japan, China and the Republic of Korea. By addressing the nature of comprehensive security within East Asia, the chapter also examines some of the tensions inherent within East Asian concepts of security. By considering the concept of human security, it explores the possibilities and constraints for the emergence of more normatively progressive sets of security discourses and practices, and of space for a range of critical actors.