CONTRIBUTING, WRITER – The performance of the president of the United States in Europe over the past week left Europeans dumbfounded, shaken and at least on trade, rightfully anxious about the future. Donald Trump has once again threatened Europeans with tariffs in the one sector that hurts (Germans especially) the most — the automotive industry. Since his election, America’s new protectionism certainly makes Europeans feel isolated on issues of trade and the defense of liberal values.
Yet what Europeans often forget is that this is not the case. Europe is not the last man standing. Japan, Australia, India and Canada are all still very much part of our community of shared values.
How we strengthen this community, will depend on the way Europeans will capitalize on the visit of Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Tokyo this week. This visit can take two different paths. One is the path of diplomatic niceties, signing agreements, and smiling and posing for pictures. Following the storm caused by Trump in Brussels and London, that was a welcome respite, to be sure. The other path goes far beyond and can turn our relationship into something much more enduring and ambitious.
This means not just finalizing the trade agreement and strategic partnership, but seizing the moment and using it as a springboard for setting together global standards on a number of issues — such as trade, climate change, security policy, rule-of-law, cyber and data flows as well as data protection.
At the same time, many Europeans, who seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that destiny shall be set by China, need to ask the question — why not also by cooperation with like-minded countries like Japan?
Many in Europe look at Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI) both as an opportunity but also as a Trojan horse. Europeans are not sure how to handle it. On one hand they welcome Chinese investments. On the other, they realize that with these investments, China is pursuing a meticulous strategic goal, acquiring key infrastructure and technological know-how. China’s investments in Europe has increased exponentially — 10 times from 2008 to 2015 and another 70 percent the year after.
Over the past year, many have awoken to the dangers that Chinese foreign direct investment carries and the European Union is working toward a framework for investment screening at the union level. Albeit far behind what other Group of Seven countries already have in place, this is an important step forward.
Europeans are also starting to learn their lessons from Gazprom, where through Russia’s pipelines, it’s not just gas flowing through to Europe but also Russian influence.
The same is becoming true of Chinese influence. With the promise of investment comes Chinese influence and we see it manifesting itself in the shifting foreign policy of countries like Hungary, Croatia and Greece on issues of human rights and the South China Sea. Nonetheless, just as in the Gazprom case, Europe does have alternatives to the BRI. The Chinese initiative is one but not the only option toward opening up to Asia.
The Indo-Pacific corridor is one alternative to the BRI and here Europe has a lot to contribute. The concept is based on norms of freedom of navigation, free trade, stability and the rule of law. With an international order ever more increasingly violated by Russia in Ukraine and China in the South China Sea, Europeans have a vested interest in ensuring this order is respected, especially through one of the world’s most important commercial arteries. With their naval capabilities, France and the United Kingdom are in a unique position to spearhead Europe’s contribution to upholding freedom of navigation, peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
At the same time, Japan, with some of the most open data-flow systems in the world, is also best placed to establish together with Europe a state-of-the-art digital economy that could serve as a model for the rest of the world. With much of the global trade happening online in our current century, should data flow freely from one side to the other, both Europe and Japan would gain significantly.
Ultimately, it is in Europe’s interest to upgrade its relationship with Japan and vice-versa and the current Japan-EU summit is a unique opportunity. If EU and Japanese leaders seize it, this could be an important turnaround both for the way Europeans see trade with Asia and for liberal democracy at large.
Harry Nedelcu is policy adviser at Rasmussen Global, a Copenhagen- and Brussels-based consultancy and advisory firm founded in 2014 by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former prime minister of Denmark and former secretary-general of NATO.
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