Asia Needs Its Own EU More Than Ever

Essay by ASPI President Kevin Rudd

In an October 2015 essay for Europe’s World, Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd makes the case that “a common political and security architecture” for Asia — an Asia-Pacific Community — would enable the continent to manage regional tensions and defuse crises, while also “reducing the strategic polarisation we are beginning to see emerge between Washington and Beijing.”

There are concerning parallels between pre-1914 Europe and today’s security tensions in maritime Asia. The Asia-Pacific region has been witnessing an emerging bifurcation between a 21st century economic order geared towards integration, and a regional security order with an increasingly sharp, 19th century edge.

Leaders in Asia can nevertheless draw policy lessons from Europe’s recent history. It was, in part, this tragic history of competing nationalisms that led me, as Prime Minister of Australia, to propose an Asia-Pacific Community (APC). When I launched this initiative back in 2008, I stressed that although the great powers of the Asia-Pacific region may live in harmony today, history should remind us not to assume that ‘peace in our time’ can ever be guaranteed. That was seven years ago. And as we all know, security tensions in the region have now become much sharper.

An APC would, of course, be significantly different from the original concepts of European co-operation. The Asia-Pacific region itself is vastly different to Europe. The history of 20th century Asia has primarily been a colonial and post-colonial history. By contrast, Europeans over the same period were the colonisers. Europe has evolved the notion of the nation-state steadily since the 15th century, whereas this was less formal across Asia. Further, despite its division into often competing nation-states, and despite the wars of religion, Europe evolved from a common Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman culture, whereas that is not the case with the vastly different civilisational trajectories of Asia.

We can, however, see the need in both Europe and Asia for the evolution of a common political and security architecture to manage regional tensions. The same idea of a long-term Asia-Pacific Community comes from this premise. An APC would foster deeper inter-dependence over time, together with new habits of transparency, trust and co-operative norms. Such mechanisms could help Asia cope with crises by managing them peacefully and reducing the strategic polarisation we are beginning to see emerge between Washington and Beijing. The concept of an APC could begin with basic confidence and security-building measures between regional states.

Read the full essay.

Related ASPI Initiative

  • An ASPI initiative to strengthen regional security institutions in Asia, led by a high-level Policy Commission whose members are from China, Japan, North- and South Korea, India, Indonesia, and the U.S.