Europe must wipe tears and seize the moment to craft a new global order

Europe must wipe tears and seize the moment to craft a new global order

ENOUGH tears have been shed, egos and emotions shaken and obituaries written about the transatlantic relationship.

Enough headlines and commentaries drafted about US President Donald Trump and his volatile ways. And enough pictures taken of the dysfunctional and dying G7 and the love-in between Trump and North Korea’s “rocket man-turned-peacenik” Kim Jong-un.

Now it’s time to move on.

It’s time for Europeans to wipe the tears, stop the grieving and turn a new page. The world is a big place, and the US, while Europe’s best buddy for 70 years, has embarked on a new journey where it just isn’t into Europe anymore.

Instead, it’s America first, dictators second and old friends and allies last.

Sad indeed. But let’s get used to the new normal. Believe it or not, Europe, there’s a big and very interesting world out there. New partners to woo, new challenges to tackle, new and less-travelled roads to explore.

And as the journey begins, it’s important to underline that all the talk about the demise of the “West” and collapse of the rules-based multilateral order needs to be put in its proper perspective.

Yes, the US under Trump is losing ground on the global stage while Asia’s rising powers, with China in the lead, are ratcheting up their worldwide influence and clout.

While the G7 meeting in Canada ended in insulting tweets and counter-tweets, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Quindao appeared to herald a new era of cooperation among the often-warring leaders of Russia, China and India.

Beware of hasty conclusions, Western-focused conventional wisdoms and Eurocentric biases, however. The old order is unravelling and the world seen from Europe can seem very disorderly and chaotic. But it’s more complicated than that.

In reality, a new order is emerging and Europe — provided it plays its cards right and stops mourning the past — can still play an important role in crafting the new rules of the game.

First, with its unique story of peace, reconciliation and integration, Europe is and will always be more than a mere member of an America-led “Western alliance”. European markets, investments, technology, exports — and smart power — continue to resonate across the world.

Second, even as they become more self-confident and assertive about voicing their aspirations and concerns, the rising powers aren’t ready — yet — to completely jettison the old playbook.

Interestingly, China’s President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the SCO summit to underline their readiness to abide by world trade rules, with the Chinese leader insisting: “We should reject selfish, short-sighted, narrow and closed-off policies.”

And third, while Asia’s ascending and fast-growing nations may be waxing lyrical about the “Shanghai Spirit”, their leaders still face an abundance of domestic challenges such as ensuring inclusive and sustainable growth, tackling inequalities and combating climate change which require international cooperation — and especially working with Europe.

The EU is already shifting gear. The strides made in European defence and security cooperation are important. EU efforts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, push ahead with the Paris climate agreement and safeguard the multilateral trade system may yet save the day.

It’s now time to move from crisis management to the much more challenging task of fashioning a modern and up-to-date multilateral order, one which is no longer West-focused but reflects changed dynamics and patterns of global power.

In simple terms: for Europeans, it was all about basking in the glory of a powerful transatlantic alliance. It’s now time to talk about Eurasian cooperation instead.

The reflection has already begun — albeit under another heading. In October this year, 53 European and Asian leaders will meet in Brussels for the 12th Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), a platform for Eurasian cooperation which has been undervalued and underutilised in the past.

That needs to change. As America bows out of its international commitments and the world seeks guidance on new directions, Asia-Europe cooperation acquires renewed significance.

The upcoming ASEM meeting, which brings together members of the G7, the G20, the SCO (and other bigger and smaller groupings), can help ease current uncertainties by shining the spotlight on three key areas:

First, by starting discussions on defining a new 21st Century cooperative rules-based multilateral order, which is co-created and co-designed by Europe and leading Asian powers.

ASEM is perfect for such a conversation given the diversity of its membership which includes “like-minded” nations like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea but also China, India and Southeast Asian nations.

Secondly, the ASEM summit should define new norms and standards for sustainable global connectivity projects covering infrastructure as well as trade, institutions and people-to-people initiatives.

While China’s Belt and Road Initiative captures the most attention and criticism, other ASEM members, including the EU, Japan, India and South Korea are engaged in similar plans to connect and link-up through better and quicker rail, plane and maritime routes.

And finally, Europe and Asia have to deepen and expand their conversation on security, including on denuclearisation and disarmament.

The EU’s new blueprint for enhanced security cooperation “in and with Asia” emphasises that Europe is a global security partner with a fundamental interest in ensuring Asia-wide peace and stability which goes beyond the need to ensure risk-free maritime trade routes.

As EU Foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini underlined recently, “joint work on security has become the biggest area of growth” in Europe-Asia cooperation.

“As the European Union, we have realised — after centuries of conflicts that ripped our continent apart — that cooperation is essential for peace, and that peace brings prosperity,” Mogherini wrote recently.

Asians need to hear that message more often. And that is why the time is right for Asian governments to give the EU a seat at the East Asia Summit, Asia’s most influent security forum.

By: Shadaba Islam

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