Asia in German foreign policy

Old meets new: Kunming, China

Old meets new: Kunming, China, © dpa/picture-alliance


Asia is the most dynamic growth region worldwide and will continue to consolidate this position in the 21st century. At the same time, Asia is faced with problems of global significance. German foreign policy takes account of both dimensions.

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 further 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, German foreign policy cannot take 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 at the Federal Foreign Office, barely makes the job any easier. There are stark contrasts, for example, between large and small, rich and poor states, and between authoritarian and democratic forms of government. There are also marked differences in religion and society throughout the region.

The concepts which have been drawn up over the years, first (in 1993) for Asia as a whole 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 still focused primarily on the economic side of German-Asian cooperation, for example on 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.

German policy on Asia was redefined following various historical and political events ‑ such as the end of the Cold War, the 1997 financial crisis in Asia, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, ASEAN’s integration process, economic development in Asia in the first decade of the 21st century and the growing role of many Asian countries as a result of globalisation ‑ to take greater account of the differences from region to region.

German policy on Asia aims to do justice to the continent’s current diversity: alongside economic issues, 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 and rule of law dialogue, and the fight against terrorism, and these are reflected in policy at the regional, sub-regional and bilateral levels.

Regional concepts

The regional concepts drawn up back in 2002 were based on the following system of categories.

  • Democracy, the rule of law and human rights as stabilising 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.

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