Europe From Asia, by Ban Ki-moon, Pan Guang, Tioulong Saumra and Dominique Girard

Article published on Nov. 3, 2009
community published
Article published on Nov. 3, 2009
The power of Europe’s example Ban Ki-moon Secretary-General of the United Nations The old division of Europe into “East” and “West” two decades ago, has today given way to the modern European Union. Europe has thus become less a geography than an idea – an ideal, even, of the power of integration as an engine of prosperity and social advancement.
This shining success has not been lost on the rest of the world. Latin Americans and North Americans have long dreamed of creating a free-trade zone. The African Union aspires to become more than the sum of its parts; some even speak of a United States of Africa. Only in Asia, and most especially north-east Asia, for all its dynamism, has this idea not taken hold. Why? I can recite the customary litany of reasons, from differences of history and culture to unresolved territorial and political disputes and the fact of two centers of power. But the main reason is that we have not tried. As an Asian secretary-general, I hope to see this change. I hope, one day, to see an Asia that is both better integrated and more internationally engaged, quicker to bring its skills and record of success to bear on the most pressing global issues of the day. I hope for an Asia, in other words, that comes to recognize the power of Europe’s example. But this is not only my hope; it is also Asia’s obligation.

A Chinese view of Europe

Pan Guang

Director and professor of the Shanghai Center for International Studies

“Europe” is a pluralistic and ever-changing concept, not only for me, but also for most Chinese I believe. Europe in history. The Silk Road was the first tie to connect Europe and China, unfolding a historical relationship of two sides more or less on an equal footing at the beginning. When Marco Polo walked along the Silk Road all the way to China, he found China very prosperous and well-governed, apparently more advanced than Europe in numerous aspects. However, when the Europeans reached China in warships centuries later, Europe became synonymous with colonialism.In the eyes of my grandfather and father and their generations, the decline of China and the sufferings of her people were closely related to European colonialism. Nevertheless, the Chinese also learned a lot from Europe: modern science and technology; concepts of freedom, liberty, fraternity and parliamentary democracy; and even Marxism that came to guide the Chinese Communists.The Europe of the Cold War era. During the Cold War era, China faced serious threats from the two superpowers, especially first the United States and later the Soviet Union. In the minds of many Chinese, including its leaders like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, China and Europe were like two strategic allies, being both under the pressure of the superpowers. The UK was the first Western country that recognized the new China, and Hong Kong was once the chief bridge between China and Europe. I clearly remember to this day how excited the Chinese were on hearing theestablishment of diplomatic relations between China and France in January 1964. Indeed, Charles de Gaulle thereafter became an immortal hero in the hearts of the Chinese. The Chinese were also persistently supportive of the reunification of Germany and European integration, which explains why they feel so agitated when some German or other European politicians endorse the Dalai Lama’s efforts to seek Tibetan independence. Europe in the era of China’s reform and openingup. Sino-European relations were given a great spurt when China embarked upon her journey of reform and openingup under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. The two sides established a strategic partnership encompassing sectors of trade, science and technology, education, healthcare, energy, transportation, environmental protection, judicialpractice, etc. Large numbers of young Chinese went to Europe to study, while even more Chinese traveled to Europe for business and sightseeing purposes. Likewise, more and more Europeans visited China for investment, academic exchange, as well as tourism and study. That was indeed a “honeymoon” in the Sino-European relationship, with both sides interacting with, and learning from, each other in equal partnership. One may say that a new “Silk Road” was paved between China and Europe. The Europe of 2008. 2008 was a year of pride and excitement for the Chinese hosting the Beijing Olympics. However, some European streets were witness to violent acts against the Olympic torch, with some Europeansnot only showing support for such acts, but also waving the snow lion flag that symbolized Tibetan secession. The enraged Chinese asked, “We consistently supported German reunification, and have always been in favor of European integration. But why do these guys insist on splitting a unified China?” A student of mine, who has read quite a lot of European history, remarked, “Tibet became part of China as early as the thirteenthcentury, much earlier than Corsica became part of France and Germany was unified. If they want the Chinese to leaveTibet, doesn’t it mean that all the white people should leave the US, Canada and Australia?”By the end of 2008, when the routine summit meeting between the Chinese and EU leaders was cancelled as a result of the French president’s interview with the Dalai Lama, almost all the Chinese expressed their support for the decision of their government. Many Chinese believe that if a Chinese leader carried out a high-profile interview with the leaders of the Irish, Basques (Vasco) or Corsican separatists, European leaders would take similar actions. Later on, when certain people chose to politicize the auction of Chinese relics once seized from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, a lot more Chinese were angered. They asked, “If we robbed cultural relics from the Louvre and then told the French thatthey would be returned if Corsica were allowed to become independent, how would the French think about it?” So in a matter of one year, the image of “Europe” sank drastically among the Chinese, coming once again to be associated with “colonialism”, “imperialism” and “power politics”. The Europe of the future. Most Chinese believe that, while European integration remains an inevitable process, it is still difficult to achieve a single “European identity”, particularly given the fairly wide gap between the so-called “Old Europe” and “New Europe”. Yet almost all the Chinese are convinced that a unified Europe will play an increasingly important role in world affairs, even though they are far from being unanimous regarding the positive or negative implications for China of such an integrated European role. Some think that a unified and strengthened Europewill develop a stronger sense of power expansion, therefore very likely to lead to new attempts at transforming China in its own image, and consequently to more conflicts between the two sides. But more people hold the view that, despite all the differences both existing and potential, China and Europe can clearly “seek the common ground while putting aside differences” in this pluralistic world and furthermore, should in everyway promote the common development of both sides and the whole world through joint cooperation. For me, I definitely endorse the latter view, and sincerely expect that this kind wish can be turned into a reality as soon as possible.

Europe fascination

Tioulong Saumura

Cambodian Parliament member

For us, inhabitants of countries living under authoritarian regimes and often in poverty, persecuted by leaders under whose yoke people suffocate, Europe is the symbol of democracy, economic development in social justice and modernity, in which the power of the central state diminishes for the benefit of a supranationality and regionalism. The euro is an extraordinary example of the limitations of national sovereignty.She fascinates us, she surprises us. How did they do it – the Europeans? How did they reconcile and conquer the demons of the past? Didn’t two world wars begin in Europe? Not to mention the Hundred Years’ War, religious wars and so many other conflicts that have torn Europe apart. While we remain entangled in our old quarrels without being able to move forward. Europe fascinates us, she commands our admirationbecause she was born out of the triumph of civilization and reason over man’s savage instincts henceforth curbed by the rule of law, respect for the other, the spirit of tolerance.Europe fascinates us, she inspires hope. This big sister will certainly guide us on the path of coexistence with the other in harmony, for the prosperity of all. Because Europe is the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789, the social justice of Scandinavian countries, social democracy German-style, the juxtaposition of giants like England, Germany and France with Lilliputians like Luxembourg, Slovenia and the Baltic States.Europe fascinates us, she disappoints us. As if ignoring her own strength and the influence of European values, she doesn’t dare to move forward on the international stage, and she takes care only of herself, of her construction still underway, of her expansion that doesn’t end.Yet, it is Europe’s duty to respond to the new American order, to the rise of militant Islam, to the emergence of Communist China. Not making the symphony of European values resound in the concert of nations, Europe ignores her obligations as a top global economic power, Europe fascinates us, she outrages us. Europeans, stop being self-absorbed! The rest of the world is in need of you, of humanist principles and ofEurope’s knowledgeable minds.

Europe and Asia: indispensable to one another

Dominique Girard

Executive director of the Asia Europe Foundation

Seen rom a little higher, the Europe I see is as a hand pointing to the West, towards the future, obviously. However, at its East and at its strong and formidable base is Asia: enormous, intimidating, indispensable. My adult life, that of a diplomat obstinately attached to an Asia whoseineluctable importance in the history of mankind I could never quite ignore, has always been but a happy journey throughout the four corners of the Asian continent. Even when it perpetually seemed condemned to misery and war, or when the poor appeared to be forgotten in the midst of its frivolous consumption patterns, this Asia never ceased to be a source of marvel and only confirmed that my ignorance, and hence my disposition to learn evermore, still remained intact.My youth, nonetheless, was a European one and has provided me with the few certainties on which to found my Asian quest. Kant amongst others… Colonial injustice. The reconciliation between France and Germany as well as European construction. Freedom to be sought in the respect for others. A sense of doubt. A taste for history. A desire for peace and a rejection of cowardice. And the unease also when, confronted with globalisation and the market order, the value of things takes over the value of people. Today, at the head of the Asia Europe Foundation, I find myself facing the challenging yet exhilarating task of building and strengthening those bridges between civil societies in Asia and Europe. To diminish mutual indifference, to dissolve those political and cultural prejudices related to the past and to distance, to identify and facilitate the most fertile grounds for cooperation amongst individual or institutions, to highlight the central points where political decision-makers can and should exercise their power for the common good of both continents… The existence of such a vast programme can only prove that Asia and Europe have understood that each others’ rapports can no longer be limited to the sole management of their interests, howeversimilar they may be.Sceptics may ridicule the sustainability of this relationship, starting with the denial that “one” Asia and “one” Europe exist. However, within their extreme diversity, their millennia-long histories and within the enormity of the sufferings endured by their peoples, both Europe and Asia find nowadays the same willpower to develop and thrive in peace and stability. It is this important acknowledgement, more than the volume of their economic exchanges that renders them irreversibly indispensable to one another.