Northeast Asia is today one of the world’s most dynamic economic areas, contributing almost half of global growth. The region has reached a level of economic interdependence similar, if not superior, to that of Europe. However, the worsening political climate in China, Japan and South Korea continues to hinder deeper cooperation and the elimination of the root causes of conflict. Moreover, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes represent a threat to regional peace, while China’s rise takes place outside – and in potential opposition to – the US system of alliances that has thus far been a factor of stability. There is therefore a need to devise an effective regional, multilateral security framework that could also facilitate the resumption of talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The new US administration of Donald Trump is showing contempt for multilateralism and institutions, preferring bilateral bargaining and power relations. This leaves the European Union as the only global actor that continues to support initiatives towards regional cooperation and trust building. Europe does not have binding military alliances in the area, and is a neutral actor vis-à-vis the region’s outstanding territorial and maritime disputes. New capabilities have been added to the EU’s foreign-policy toolbox in recent years, making it possible for Brussels to engage with Northeast Asian nations across the board, including the resumption of talks on North Korea’s nuclear dossier. The EU thus has political “added value”, which Northeast Asia’s policymakers should seize upon in order to manage current tensions and avoid conflict.
IAI Working Papers 17|12, March 2017, 19 p.