Monday, September 9, 2013

The French Pivot to Asia

During his recent visit to Jakarta for a bilateral with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, France’s top diplomat, Minister Laurent Fabius, dropped by the Asean Secretariat and there announced to a regional audience that his country had made a “pivot” to Asia

Smart move.

The French foreign minister: explained “France wants to be present where tomorrow’s world is [being] built.” That’s savoir-faire.

France, he stressed, is part of the Asian-Oceania space through its history. At least 1 million French citizens have Asian origins. And more than half a million more live in its Pacific territories.

The French pivot looks fairly more sophisticated than the American model. The US pivot jiggles you with the roar of its military component. Perhaps that can’t be helped. The United States has been global cop for so long, people forget it’s also an economic player. And they take its cultural influence for granted. The French also have a military presence in Asia but since the demise of Napoleon, their reputation for soldiering has been eclipsed by their fame for concocting sauces.
And they’re taking care to emphasize that their pivot is diplomatic, economic and “human,” meaning sociocultural. They affirm that no global problem can be solved without China’s participation, or at least its acquiescence. They want to strengthen their already strong security relations with India. They seek to re-engage with Japan and South Korea.

They’re bent on boosting their neglected relationship with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations — especially Indonesia, which represents 40 percent of the population and about as much of the Southeast Asia’s economy. They see Indonesia as a crucial partner on the global stage on such issues as peacekeeping, climate change and the battle against terror.
It’s not only France but also probably the rest of Europe that feels the need for robust partnerships in this part of the world. Although Europe is in deep economic trouble, some countries there will always matter: heavyweights like France itself, Germany, Britain, Norway, Sweden. That’s why Umar Hadi, director for West Europe at the Foreign Office, is brainstorming an update of Indonesia’s European policy.

In the early 1990s the economist Lester Thurow predicted that the “House of Europe” would become a self-contained region sprinting away from a pack that included the US, Japan and China. In fact, Europe slowed down from that point on and began to recover only at the turn of the century. To sustain that recovery, the European Union devised the Lisbon strategy based on the concepts of innovation, the “learning economy” and social and environmental renewal.

But the EU countries did not have the political will to faithfully implement the Strategy. By 2009, before its final review, the strategy had been pronounced a failure. Actually the EU countries failed it. Today, the EU’s economy is in its worst shape, the victim of decades of unfettered financial adventurism followed by a paralyzing panic that led these countries to try and scrimp their way to recovery.

Dr. Anis Bajrektarevic of the University of Applied Sciences IMC-Krems in Austria has called on the EU to restage the Lisbon Strategy and reclaim its “social dynamism resting on a broad participatory base” that is nourished by the contributions of its youth and its women. Great advice. Young blood and the wisdom of women can refresh old Europe.

It will also help if the EU strongly connects with Asean. There’s a great deal that both regional organizations can learn from each other’s successes and debacles. Asian’s rebound from the Asian Crisis of 1998 should be instructive to the EU. And Europe’s current plight should be cautionary to an Asean that is beginning to slow down.

The French Pivot, accented by an energetic pursuit of its strategic partnership with Indonesia, could be the start of a grand interregional enterprise.

Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. He is also an English-language consultant for the Indonesian government.

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