In 2012, the US tried to tie Europe to its “pivot” to Asia, but Europeans are right to chart their own course in the region.
If the US is not pivoting away from Europe, is it then pivoting with Europe? In other words, is there a transatlantic dimension to the new US focus on Asia? In 2012, there were new developments in this respect. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell stepped up coordination with European countries in Washington, holding a monthly lunch with a number of ambassadors, including the EU one. In July, while attending the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh, High Representative Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a joint statement that gave a new impetus to US–EU cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. Americans also supported increased EU participation in regional organisations such as the ASAEN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit, though admission still seems distant.
A good example of close EU–US coordination was provided by Burma. In May, the EU suspended economic sanctions for a trial period of one year in response to the many positive developments there. The same month, the US announced the lifting of a 15-year ban on American investment, opening up trade relations with the democratising state. The US also nominated an ambassador, the post having been vacant for some time, while the EU opened an office and is upgrading to a delegation in 2013. Both partners worked with ASEAN to assist in democracy building.
While increased transatlantic coordination on Asia is welcome, there are limits to the idea of a “joint pivot”. First, Americans do not think of the “pivot” as a Western project, there has been little follow-up of the joint declaration among officials of either side in the region, and US policymakers tend to see Europeans as insufficiently political in their approach to Asia. Second, Europe has been culturally and economically present in Asia for some time, and is associated with soft power, the rule of law, and commerce. It doesn’t necessarily want to be seen as playing the same role as the US