[VIEWPOINT]Perceptions in Europe and Asia

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[VIEWPOINT]Perceptions in Europe and Asia

What is Asia for Europe and Europe for Asia? How do we perceive each other and what do we think we can learn from one another?
A century ago, the Europe seen from Asia was Great Britain, France, Germany ― a combination of power and modernity. Europe was a test of one’s weakness for China as an example, or of one’s growing military competitiveness, in the case of Japan, with the defeat of Russia in 1905.
As for Asia, seen from Europe, it was either the space to pursue still unsatisfied colonial ambitions or a source of inspiration for painters and writers, a place of refined decadence, with the exception of Japan.
As we enter the 21st century these reciprocal perceptions have greatly evolved. Seen from Asia, the former great European nations of yesterday have not only lost a great deal of clout, but also a great part of their individuality and visibility. Arriving at Hong Kong airport 15 years ago, I was struck by the presence of huge posters, showing a group of young graduating students, under the slogan “We are the New Europe” and in very small letters at the bottom of the advertisement, one could read, ‘Republic of Ireland’. Today I feel that in Asian eyes, we are all Irish, i.e. Europeans. This is surely a sign of the success of the European Union, but it also marks a call to modesty for the former great colonial powers.
Meanwhile, Europeans, unlike Americans, have been globally slow to recognize the revolutionary changes that have taken place in Asia in the last decades. One of the direct consequences of Europe’s passivity, is that Europe tends to be increasingly perceived in Asia more as a model than as an actor.
Asians see in the creation of the European Union a model of peace and prosperity, the definitive proof that reconciliation can be achieved between former enemies like France and Germany, and that reconciliation can lead to reunification. Germany is an obvious model for a country like South Korea. From that standpoint the European Union is a source of hope for an Asian continent.
Asians may be dreaming of the reconciliation model of Europe, yet, in spite of the great dynamism of many European firms, Asians tend to see Europe as far more passive, especially when compared with the United States.
The best students from Asia, when they have the choice, go to the United States first and then to Great-Britain, much less to continental Europe.
Seen from Europe, Asia is both a wake-up call, if not a direct economic and demographic threat and still a conjunction of very diverse realities. If there is one Europe in Asia, there are still many Asias in Europe.
There is a tendency in Europe to see Asia as a land of hard work, but not necessarily as a place of creativity, as if there were a contradiction between productivity and inventiveness.

*The writer is a senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations.

by Dominique Moisi
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