Asia in German foreign policyEnlarge image (© Botschaft Jakarta, Vera Irene Paulin)
Asia’s global importance
Asia plays a central role in international politics. With a population of more than 3.5 billion people, the continent is home to more than half the global population and immense cultural and religious diversity. Asia currently accounts for well over a quarter of global economic output and is the source of a roughly equal percentage of international trade flows. It is the most dynamic growth region worldwide and will not just maintain but build on this position in the 21st century. At the same time, the continent faces problems of global significance, for example, almost two-thirds of the world’s poor live in Asia.
German foreign policy in Asia/Pacific
Given the political, social and cultural diversity at hand, our foreign policy cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to Asia. Even sub-division into geographic areas (East Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia and Pacific), as reflected in the structure of the Asia Directorate-General of the Federal Foreign Office, barely makes the job any easier. Stark contrasts, for example between large and small, rich and poor, between authoritarian and democratic forms of government and differences in religion and society, are also found within the individual regions.
The concepts which have been drawn up over the years for Asia as a whole (1993) and later for the individual regions have – given the region’s heterogeneity – only had a moderate impact in practice.
In the early 1990s, German interest focused primarily on the economic side of German-Asian cooperation, for example, integrating German businesses more effectively into the Asia-Pacific economic area, establishing a market economy structure in the region’s economies and cooperating in the field of science and technology.
The end of the Cold War, Asia’s financial crisis in 1997, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, ASEAN’s integration process, Asia’s economic development in the first decade of the 21stcentury and the growing role of many Asian countries through globalization have led to a shift in the focus of German Asia policy with a regional differentiation which does justice to the continent’s current diversity. Alongside economic issues, the spheres of security and social policy play an increasingly important role. Key elements of this new approach include involving civil society in political processes, the central role of good governance, rule of law dialogue and combating terrorism, and these are reflected in policy at the regional, sub-regional and bilateral level.
The regional concepts drawn up in 2002 were based on the following system of categories.
- Democracy, the rule of law and human rights as stabilizing and structuring elements;
- Peace and stability as key indicators of German foreign policy;
- Germany’s economic interests;
- The environment to ensure sustainable development;
- Development cooperation to link political and economic development processes;
- Academia and culture as central components anchored in civil society;
- The European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy as a framework for shaping German foreign policy.