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Udenrigsministerens tale på Københavns Universitet til konferencen "Rising Asia, Anxious Europe"

Udenrigsministerens tale på Københavns Universitet til konferencen "Rising Asia, Anxious Europe" den 2. maj 2012.


Why the rise of Asia is our business too …

Let me begin by thanking the University of Copenhagen and the organizers of this conference for giving me the opportunity to address you. It is a privilege for me to be here. And I confess that the title of the conference made it impossible not to come.

Sixty per cent of the Earth’s population call Asia their home. While economies in the West are struggling with debt and low growth, Asia has taken charge and is today the driver of the World economy. In 2010 Asia’s share of the world economy was 27 per cent. Economists are estimating that Asia will account for half in 2050 – almost double in 40 years. These are tectonic changes that will affect all of us.

However, instead of mourning the demise of the old order of things, Europe should remind itself that the old order – and our enormous global influence – rested on the fact that billions of people lived in absolute poverty. Economic growth in Asia over the last decades has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. 20 years ago more than half of Asia lived in absolute poverty. Today this has been reduced to one fifth. This is a fantastic development and a richer Asia does not make Europe poorer. On the contrary – as the growth of Japan has demonstrated – it has the potential to make us richer. And a stronger Asia need not make us less secure.

But there is no guarantee that we are looking at a win-win situation instead of a zero sum game. We must recognize that the rise of Asia carries with it enormous challenges for us in Europe. These challenges can seem overwhelming and they are a source of insecurity. For politicians and those we represent. That we are struggling with problems of our own does not make it any easier.

A French Political Scientist - Dominique Moisi – has said something that I think hits the mark perfectly in terms of how Europeans feel about the global changes. In Moisi’s words: “Today, when we westerners look eastward, we are all too uncomfortably aware that we may be glimpsing our own future, one that is beyond our control.” This feeling is understandable. It is regrettable, but it is also – and that is my main message today - crucially important that we overcome this sentiment. Because if we do not, it might easily become a selffulfilling prophecy.

We should be confident. Europe has survived many doomsday prophets announcing “Der Undergang des Abendlandes” and the rise of Asia should not make us tremble in fear. Instead it should make us – Denmark, Europe and the Western world in general – eager to explore the opportunities and keen to address the challenges.

Let me give you three simple reasons why this is so. Firstly, because it is in our own interest to be part of Asia’s fantastic growth. Secondly, because it is in the global interest that we engage with Asia and with emerging powers in Asia. So we may address global challenges and shape the changes to the global system together. And thirdly, because Asia needs us. It is in Asia’s interest to trade with us, to face the global challenges with us and to draw on our knowledge and to learn from our experiences – just as it is in our own interest to learn from Asia.

As the organizers of this conference put it: “The rise of Asia is not an event confined to Asia alone”. I completely agree. And you could add: The rise of Asia is not just Asia’s business, it is our business too.

But first we need to recognize that change is unavoidable. And that the fundamental question is whether we want to be part of shaping the change. 

Then we must realize that Asia and the emerging powers are challenged as well. Because of their impressive growth rates, countries like China and India have acquired new foreign policy muscles – and are at the same time faced with new foreign policy challenges. They are at a record breaking pace growing in to new and unfamiliar roles and expectations, challenges and responsibilities. Nationally, regionally and also globally.

We need to cooperate with emerging powers to shape the changes – rather than fight the changes. To use a metaphor, there is no point in arguing against gravity. But this doesn’t mean that we should be less ambitious with our foreign policy or the objectives that we pursue. We can and we should expect emerging powers to contribute to the solution of global challenges, but our approach and our posture need to be different. It must be constructive and cooperative – and be so with confidence. At least, if we want our policy to produce results. And we need to be honest about this. Also - or perhaps especially - when we discuss foreign policy with our domestic constituencies.

Within this approach, rests of course a recognition that the days, when Europe and the US could almost dictate the terms of the international order, are quickly coming to an end. But if we are to avoid a dangerous fragmentation of world affairs, where nobody has the power nor the inclination to look after the world, then we need to find new ways to strengthen cooperation. This is not an easy task in a situation where the world is in flux and the scales are shifting.

There has been a lot of talk about a stronger American presence in and preoccupation about Asia. Over the last year Obama and Clinton have further outlined US policy on Asia and followed it up with concrete action. This has been welcomed in Asia by those seeking increased US engagement and it has caused some concern among those who do not. This policy has also in some parts of Europe been seen as the US turning its back on Europe. This is not how I see it. As the US adjusts the Asia-Pacific aspects of its foreign policy, it will need to continue to strengthen its transatlantic partnership with Europe. Just as Europe will need to nourish and develop its transatlantic partnership with the US while we are increasingly looking eastward ourselves. In fact, working together on - and with - Asia should only strengthen our partnerships.

And Asian countries for their part will need and many will want Europe and the US to cooperate. As I mentioned, the explosive growth and rapid development in Asia have brought many challenges to Asia as well. Environmental challenges, growing inequality, social tensions and other challenges, where we in the West have experiences – good and bad – as well as expertise and knowledge to share.

Let us not forget that Asia continues to be the region in the world with the largest number of poor people. Asia’s own development bank has just recently pointed to growing inequality as the biggest threat to Asia’s future economic growth. Europe – and countries like Denmark – has something to offer here. Not only in terms of development assistance, technical cooperation and political dialogue – but also in terms of business approaches. To mention a specific case in point: A country like China, who has witnessed massive growth over the last three decades, could very well be interested to learn about our experience with Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR, and how Danish companies have managed – with a little help from politicians – to make CSR an integral part of their business strategy rather than regard it as an unnecessary drag on their bottom line.

And there are numerous challenges in Asia related to both traditional and non-traditional security concerns. Serious and diverse challenges like non-proliferation and piracy that have a direct bearing on Asia - and on the rest of the world. Here, both the US and Europe have something to offer. And here Asia seeks our engagement, in fact, as I have just experienced during my recent trip to South East Asia, where I met with colleagues from the countries in ASEAN.

As an organisation of countries at the heart of the evolving regional architecture in Asia, ASEAN is a natural partner for Europe in many areas. And in a way, an obvious point of entry for a stronger European engagement in Asia.

Rapid economic development in Asia has also given rise to increasing expectations from people in many Asian countries. Expectations that economic growth is accompanied by reforms, by rights and by governments that are increasingly accountable to its people. In this area too, Denmark and Europe have something to offer with our long tradition for popular participation, democratic accountability, human rights and social responsibility. We need to translate this into an ever stronger cooperation with Asia. And we must do so through an engagement that is – on the one hand – true to the values and norms that we believe in and – on the other hand – firmly based on a respectful dialogue, clear views, a credible presence and active cooperation. Not by preaching from what we believe to be the moral high ground but by engaging in an equal partnership while remaining true to our beliefs.

So is Europe up to the task? Will the EU prove to be as decisive a foreign policy player in Asia as it has been in other parts of the world – not least closer to home? Good questions - I must admit – but also without clear answers.

In my view we have too little confidence in ourselves, our economies and social model. Europe may lose its status as the World’s largest economy and trading partner, but we have every opportunity to remain the innovative and competitive leader in the green technologies of the future just as our inclusive welfare societies based on freedom, equal opportunities and solidarity remain an inspiration for billions of ordinary people around the world.

This does not mean that Europe can lean back and wait for Asia to come to us. We must engage much more actively and with a much stronger sense of purpose. It has taken us much too long to realise this, but there are some indications that we are gradually getting on the right track.

Last week I took part in a meeting between EU Foreign Ministers and Foreign Ministers from South East Asia. This is a meeting that takes place every two years. This year the meeting was held in Brunei, which for Eu-ropeans requires a lengthy journey.  Two years ago the meeting was held in Madrid within easy reach of every EU capital. I have been told that less than 10 EU Foreign Ministers bothered to show up in Madrid – sending civil servants to take their place. Not to say something bad about civil servants. This year in Brunei more than half of my colleagues showed up. So while there is still some way to go, Europe is gradually beginning to give Asia more of the attention it deserves.

So: what do we need to do? There are actually a lot of good things to build on and many good experiences to expand on. One concrete area is negotiating and concluding cooperation agreements with Asia.

In a couple of months we celebrate the first anniversary of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement and the political agreement that came along with it. EU is making progress in the negotiations with India over a free trade agreement. It has also been a key priority for the Danish EU presidency to open negotiations with Japan on a free trade agreement and a political framework agreement. Likewise, free trade negotiations with Singapore are well under way, and political agreements have already been concluded with Vietnam and Indonesia with negotiations on free trade agreements with these two countries appearing on the horizon.

Denmark has experiences of its own to share in this respect. Last year we concluded a strategic partnership with South Korea with green growth at its core. This has translated into not only strong bilateral cooperation, but has also become a central pillar in our international initiative Global Green Growth Forum which brings hundreds of international companies, governments and institutions together to discuss common challenges and joint solutions in our quest for a low carbon transition. Our strategic partnership with Korea has expanded to other areas like development assistance, where we share our long experience as a donor with South Korea that just a few years ago joined the community of international development donors – and where we work together on bringing green solutions to developing countries. And our partnership with Korea has further spread to more traditional security areas like nuclear issues, where the Danish Prime Minister as the first Danish Prime Minister ever participated in the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul a little over a month ago.

We need to continue faster and deeper along these lines. It is not only a matter of economics, of expanding trade and securing jobs and investments in the long run. It is about bringing Asia and Europe closer together.

Because the bottom line is – ladies and gentlemen – that there exists a profound need to bring Asia and Europe even closer together in the coming years. This is necessary if Europe wants to be part of shaping the changes. And especially, if we want to do it with a constructive and determined approach based on confidence and cooperation rather than on a timid or suspicious approach based on fear and insecurity.

Such an approach must also be based on popular support. It must be founded in the knowledge that our own constituencies – the European citi-zens in other words – are able to see the challenges and spot the opportunities that are coming. And it means that people, institutions and companies across Europe need to have a stake.

For this reason – and for many other reasons – Europe’s engagement in Asia and Asia’s engagement in Europe cannot be left to Foreign Ministries. It is much too important for that. We quite simply need more Asians in Europe and we need more Europeans in Asia. We need students and professors from Europe to study and do research in Asia – together with their Asian colleagues. And of course the other way round. That is why I believe that initiatives like the Danish University Center in Beijing and the research cooperation agreements that we are entering into with Korea, India and other Asian countries are critically important foreign policy tools. As are this very conference and the initiative that it is part of.

Not only are their competences and resources needed both in Europe and in Asia. They also give Europe’s engagement in Asia a presence and a face – and they give Asia a presence and a face in Europe. And all of this is needed if we are to dispel some of the fear and insecurity in Europe that it is so easy to feel when we look eastward. If we are to change the rise of Asia from being perceived as a risk to being recognised as an opportunity.

The changes taking place in Asia are monumental. Given their size, speed and scope they offer both new challenges and new tensions. For us and for Asia. But the growth of Asia is needed and it brings enormous possibilities and opportunities. For Asia and certainly also for us in Europe. But to realize this potential we need to be a partner with Asia - not to patronise it, nor panic at the sight of it.

This will require leadership, confidence and a willingness to meet the changes rather than resisting them. This is not without risk, but as Nehru once said: The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.

With these words, I wish you two days of constructive and forward looking discussions focused on the opportunities and mindful of the challenges.

Thank you.