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