Note de recherche

A policy paper written by Hartmut Marhold* - Europe-Asia Connectivity - A Dramatic Shift in Global Relations

The general setting

Europe, North America, East Asia – a century old triangle, bound together by trade and exchange. The oldest line of this triangle goes back to antiquity, when the Silk Road connected China to the Roman Empire, and integrated the intermediate regions into a Eurasian network of cultures and empires, popping up and failing, rising again and changing from century to century, from Mongols to Seldjuks, from Persians to Arabs and Ottomans, a vibrating Central Asia now about to revive in our times1.  With shipbuilding and discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Atlantic dramatically changed its role from an unbreachable barrier to a highway of exchange, turning the face of Europe away from the East and the Mediterranean to the Americas. But the “Columbian exchange”2, the multiple connections established since the Spanish conquest of South America, extended over the Pacific, too, and bound China and the East Asian islands into a world wide web of trade. The “Bi-Polar World” of the 20th century, viewed against the long run of history, was an anomaly – the “Tri-Angle” is back today, with the rise of China over the last half century, a rise not to unprecedented heights, but back to what was the standard over two millennia, suspended for only two centuries3.  

What we are currently experiencing is a dramatic shift in the always precarious balance between the lines of the triangle – a shift away from the trans-Pacific and the trans-Atlantic axes, to a strengthening of the trans-Eurasian one. When ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting), probably the most important intergovernmental and inter-society forum between Europe and Asia today, was founded in 1996, it seemed to be the weakest part of the triangle: “North America and Europe already had longstanding institutional linkages, by virtue of their shared history and culture. North America and East Asia had also begun to forge closer ties under the aegis of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).  However, the missing institutional link that was needed to complete the triangle was closer relations between Asia and Europe“, according to the Founder’ of ASEM, GOH Chok Tong, former Prime Minister of Singapore, when looking back at its history 20 years later, i.e. in 20164. Until five years ago, the transatlantic as well as the transpacific ties seemed to strengthen and decidedly outpace the trans-Eurasian one; the same author could make a similar assessment of this dynamic in 2015: “Trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), once in force, will propel the economic ties between Asia and the US, and Europe and the US respectively.  But there is no similar initiative between Asia and Europe yet.  ASEM therefore holds the key to realising an Asia-Europe answer to the TPP and TTIP.“ But TTIP was already under strong (European) pressure before Donald Trump became President of the USA, and soon after his inauguration he cancelled the parallel Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement5, in accordance with his “America first” politics. Suddenly, the trans-Eurasian ties and bonds excel as the outstanding example of intercontinental connectivity. (..)"

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*Hartmut Marhold is Senior Research Fellow at CIFE and teaches at the University of Cologne and the Turkish-German University in Istanbul.