EUROPEAN FOREIGN POLICY SCORECARD 2015

Cooperation on regional and global issues

21 - Relations with the US on Asia

Grade: C+
Unity 3/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 5/10
Total 10/20
Scorecard 2013: B- (12/20)
Scorecard 2014: B- (12/20)

Europe faced less pressure from the US to engage strategically in East Asia in 2014, but engagement continues to be in its long-term interests. 

Now that the transatlantic alliance is preoccupied with Russian aggression and the rise of ISIS, few consider joining the US rebalance to Asia as the way to ensure the alliance’s continued relevance. However, this may be a curse disguised as a blessing. Europe needs to engage strategically in East Asia not to help the US, but because it too has an interest in the region remaining stable and avoiding crises. In this sense, the dissipation of US pressure on Europe to engage strategically in Asia may make it less likely that the EU will do what it should for its own interests.

European nations still treated Asia as a national economic opportunity rather than a strategic issue this year. In 2014, the EU did not attend the Shangri-La defence dialogue, although it had in 2013. There was little interest among member states in raising concerns with Beijing about the South China Sea disputes (about which China was very assertive in the first half of 2014). Europe is also divided about the benefits of transatlantic coordination on this issue, with the UK in favour and France and Germany generally opposed.

The rationale for increased European engagement in Asia is not to keep Washington happy. Rather, it is that tensions in East Asia, which continued to rise in 2014, could threaten European economic and security interests. Although Europe and the US have very different equities in East Asia, both are well served by a stable regional order. East Asian nations are actively seeking a more comprehensive European role. Europe cannot engage militarily but it can engage diplomatically on institution building, upholding the rule of law, solving maritime disputes, and helping Southeast Asian nations to diversify their economic relations beyond China. As the transatlantic alliance balances back to Europe and the Middle East, Europe must not lose sight of the long-term need to engage strategically in East Asia.