by Jyotsna Venkatesh
On September 18, 2014, The Centre for European Studies hosted a presentation by Dr. Hungdah Su discussing the possibility of integrating the Asian subcontinent economically and culturally in the footsteps of the European Union. Dr. Su is the Director General of the European Union Centre in Taiwan and a full-time Jean Monnet Chair Professor at the National Taiwan University. You can refer to the slides of his presentation here.
Dr. Su enthusiastically cites the success of the EU model as a blueprint for countries in Asia to follow. He never discusses why exactly Asian integration would be beneficial for Asian countries explicitly, but it is clear that economic integration has been an ongoing goal for regional institutions including the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN).
Dr. Su points out some major obstacles to an Asian integration, namely the vast number of territorial disputes, conflicts in the South China Sea, conflict of cultural values and even the consensus on what exactly “Asia” includes.
The rise of Asian regionalism is highlighted in the presentation as an important development after 1945. With the initial initiation by Japan in the 60’s, many forces have played a role in evolving institutions serving Asian economies including, the U.S., Australia, China and the ASEAN countries. As a result there are competing models of what integration should look like.
From the American perspective, Asian integration should take on the face of open regionalism, with the inclusion of all APEC members. This implies that the U.S. can be a member in multiple regions as a strong power. It is important to note that many countries in Asia rely on the U.S. army for security. Japan would like to lead the Asian integration but its military history, political views and economic practices (not likely to open markets too often) will likely keep it out of leadership’s reach. The ASEAN organization would take a tripartite approach to integration, serving as a balancing force between North Asia, South Asia and the West. India would take a similar approach of holding countries in balance, providing its leadership strategy as a link between Asia, the Middle East, China and the U.S. Its main goal is to not be regarded as “anti-Chinese” given tensions that exist across its North-East border. Finally, without China, it would be difficult to have any integration as it is such a great economic force in the region, serving as a good model for development. However, it is unlikely that it will lead if it continues with its current structure of government.
In fact, most countries in this region are non-democratic, making integration that much more difficult on a political and cultural level. In light of the pro-democracy protests happening in Hong Kong, this presentation comes at an important time in debating what the future of the region will hold.
Dr. Su brings forth an interesting discussion on the prospect of integrating Asia and the many complex obstacles that lie in conflict to this idea. Do the benefits of integration outweigh the cost of overcoming regional disputes in the long-run? That is something we cannot answer now, but may hold witness to in the near future.
The Centre for European Studies (CES) hosts events throughout the year. The next one is coming up on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. For more information visit the CES website.