Under the current Thai government, for example, recent years have seen targeted assassinations of opposition members and the politically motivated dissolution of a major opposition party. During the first two years of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021, illiberal and authoritarian practices increased – especially under authoritarian regimes such as Cambodia. But all these developments are little known, and what amazes me is that reactions from Europe are either very moderate or absent altogether.
All in the same boat
This is all the more surprising, because during the pandemic, there was a growing awareness in Europe that its own strategic interests are closely linked to developments in Asia. The negative consequences of a disruption in trade routes and supply chains within and from the region – for example as a result of an outbreak of conflict – would also have tangible repercussions in Europe. These strategic ties are recognised in position papers on the Indo-Pacific by actors such as France, Germany, the Netherlands and the EU. In this sense, we are all in the same boat.
I am convinced that Europe can play a constructive role in maintaining peace, stability and security in Asia. Individual, grand geopolitical gestures, such as sending warships to the region – as we saw in 2021 – should be only one element of a more balanced and purposeful European engagement. Measures that I believe to be particularly important are those that strengthen and stabilize smaller states, such as the countries of Southeast Asia, and integrate them into overall regional solutions. In doing so, Europe could draw on its existing expertise in promoting democracy, the rule of law and multilateralism. It is essential to fortify the political and social stability and diversity of these countries. Their resilience will help determine how Asia will develop within complex conflicts and in light of major geopolitical shifts.