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This page looks at EU policy towards Asia and then outlines how to use the links.

EU-Asia relations

Does the EU have a policy towards Asia or just the main countries, especially China?

This is a legitimate question to ask and immediately begs the question what is Asia?  Under the former DG Relex, Asia was split with Japan and Korea being lumped together with the US. In the EEAS, Asia-Pacific is treated as a whole although there is talk of two directorates being created as the region is so large.

As with other parts of the globe the EU does not have the field to itself. The 27 member states all wish to maintain and develop close ties with Asia. Many have colonial ties (e.g. UK and India, Netherlands and Indonesia, France and Vietnam). The larger member states such as Germany have their own strategic partnerships with countries such as China and India. Inevitably there are rivalries, especially on the trade front e.g. the fight between Eurofighter and Rafaele to provide fighter planes to the Indian airforce.

Distance also plays a role. Catherine Ashton has been criticised for not spending more time in Asia (and not attending the Asian Regional Forum meeting in Bali in July 2011) but it is not easy to visit the region given the vast distances, different time zones and competing claims on the High Representative’s time (

In contrast to individual countries there have been few policy papers about Asia as a region. The last communication dates back to 2001 which had the ambitious aim of ‘strengthening the EU’s political and economic presence in the region commensurate with its global weight following enlargement.’

In the past decade there have been major global developments, including the rise of China and India, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Eurozone debt crisis, terrorism and climate change. The EU has been preoccupied with institutional reforms and enlarging from 15 to 27 member states.  Many Asians have been concerned at the EU’s internal preoccupations. At the same time, Asia has gained a new self-confidence and made some moves towards regional cooperation.

Since 2001, there has been a significant increase in Asia’s economic growth, financial strength and influence on trade policy.  The entry of China and other Asian countries into the WTO has been positive but there remain problems of implementing WTO commitments and rules. The difficulties encountered with the Doha Round have led to a proliferation of bilateral trade agreements in Asia. These developments have led the EU to focus its trade policy on the most dynamic Asian economies, aiming at targeted and trade-boosting FTAs.

The EU has sought to strengthen its dialogue with Asia through a mix of regional, sub-regional and bilateral dialogues. The EU has three strategic partners (Japan, India and China) in Asia. Most attention, however, has been devoted to China. The Asia-Europe dialogue (ASEM : has had a mixed impact partly due to disputes over the presence of Myanmar. EU-ASEAN relations, also affected by Burma/Myanmar, have not fulfilled their potential, although there is now an action plan to move relations forward (

The EU has made limited impact as a security actor in Asia although it played a crucial role in helping to resolve the conflict in Aceh (Indonesia).  Its significant role in Afghanistan has gone largely unnoticed. Its views on ‘soft power’ have yet to find resonance in Asia.

While development assistance to Asia has increased, the EU has not made the impact it might have partly due to an overload of projects and limited coordination between the EU and member states. Aid is now concentrated on sectoral support rather than project support. Conditionality has not been applied to much effect. Poverty reduction has come about more from economic growth than aid.

Certain progress has been made in the sensitive areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But many Asian countries, not just those with authoritarian regimes, are unhappy with the perceived preaching attitude and double standards of the EU.

The EU has had limited success in securing the cooperation of Asian partners in the global arena. There has been some progress on climate change, pandemics, terrorism and conflict prevention but little cooperation on regional issues or reform of the global institutions.

The awareness of the EU in Asia has increased in the past six years, largely due to the euro and the economic strength of the Union. There has been some interest in the EU model of integration, notably in ASEAN. In some parts of Asia it is recognised as an important player in regulatory behaviour and setting standards.

Given the dramatic changes since 2001 it is certainly time for a new EU policy paper on relations with Asia.

How to use our links pages

Our aim is to provide you with a wide variety of links to governments, regional organisations, academic institutions, trade and business associations, NGOs, media, cultural groups etc.

The EU section contains links originating in Europe and the Asia section links originating in Asia. While the categories, for the most part, are self-explanatory please note that if you wish to know more about specific EU relationships with countries in Asia, first go to EU where you will find the sub categories dealing with individual countries.

Each EU-Asia country category will contain a brief description of the country’s relations with the EU followed by links to key European documents.  If you wish to have links to key Asia documents, you will need to begin in the Asia section where you will find sub categories that include individual countries.  

Contact us at if you have comments or suggestions for other links.