EU Integration and East Asia
John de Boer (GLOCOM Platform)
On the 22 February, the head of the Delegation of the European Commission in Japan, Ambassador Bernhard Zepter, gave an interesting talk addressing the issue of "how regions are formed". The speech delivered at the 4th Asia-Europe Forum not only highlighted the main forces that underpin unity in Europe, but also indirectly raised some important questions for Japan and its future in East Asia.
According to Ambassador Zepter, the EU is a "bottom-up" process designed to build appropriate institutional and democratic structures that allow EU members to solve concrete problems that require a common approach. The primary of which is to establish a "zone of peace, stability and prosperity". After waging two bloody wars against each other in the 20th century (World War I & II), Zepter claims that Europeans have awoken to the reality that freeing the continent from war is the only way to achieve this goal. A sentiment reflected in the founding principles of the Rome Treaty, which pledges, "never war between us".
The success of the process that embodies the European Union, according to Zepter, has been built on three core factors. The first is reconciliation. The most significant of which was the reconciliation reached between Germany and France shortly after WWII. It was these two former enemies that proposed the creation of a steel and coal community (ECSC), thereby, initiating the European integration process. The second factor is said to be the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism (the end of the Cold War). These dramatic political developments made possible the eradication of the East-West divide that had split the continent for nearly half-a-century. The third and final factor, according to Ambassador Zepter, was the existence of shared values, namely the promotion of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
While the pervasiveness of these factors and their centrality to EU policy can be debated, and although there exist fundamental differences between the EU and East Asia, for the sake of argument let's see how East Asia measures up to these three pre-requisites for regional integration. In doing so, despite the obvious obstacles, we may be able to gauge how far away the region is from realizing a convergence of political, economic and social goals that meet in the objective of creating a "peaceful, stabile and prosperous" region. The answer could have important policy implications for Japan by determining the course it could take vis-a-vis the rest of East Asia.
In terms of reconciliation, the region has yet to resolve the issue of human rights violations committed by the Japanese Imperial Army over fifty years ago in China, Taiwan as well as in North and South Korea. The Korean Peninsula remains embroiled in its most serious crisis since the Korean War and the conflict between China and Taiwan continues to flare up without any apparent resolution.
The region is also characterized by competing ideologies that have yet to shake off their cold-war tendencies. The totalitarian-communist state of North Korea remains isolated against capitalistic-democratic societies such as Japan and South Korea. China, while adopting some market oriented policies, continues to be a tremendous communist force.
Finally, it is difficult to identify shared values held by countries in the region. Certainly, all desire peace, prosperity and stability, however, none agree on how these objectives should be achieved. While there do exist many shared cultural and linguistic qualities these do not constitute a value system. Confucian principles that underpin certain aspects of all societies are too passive to be embraced in a manner that will motivate leaders and citizens to enter into a process of open interdependence let alone integration.
Considering this reality, the idea that East Asia could develop into a 'zone of peace and prosperity' in the near future under the organizing principles that Ambassador Zepter spelled out seem remote. Perhaps East Asia is in need of alternative organizing principles, however, considering the fact that threat, fear, and mistrust best describe the reality facing countries in East Asia today it could be a long time before a framework for enhanced cooperation can be fleshed out and built upon.
The full text of Ambassador Zepter's speech can be read at: