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Asia in German foreign policy

Tradition and modernity – a street scene in Kunming

Tradition and modernity – a street scene in Kunming, © dpa/picture-alliance

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Asia is the most dynamic growth region worldwide and is set to continue consolidating this leading position. At the same time, the continent faces problems of global significance. German policy on Asia reflects both dimensions.

Asia’s global importance

Asia plays a considerable role in international politics. With more than 3.5 billion people, the continent is home to over half the global population, as well as immense cultural and religious diversity. Asia currently accounts for well over a quarter of global economic output and is the source of roughly the same proportion of international trade flows. It is the most dynamic growth region worldwide and is set to not just maintain but continue consolidating this leading 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 continent’s political, social and cultural diversity, German foreign policy cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to Asia. Even subdividing it 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, is not enough on its own to ensure effective policymaking. There are stark contrasts between, for example, large and small states, rich and poor ones, and authoritarian and democratic forms of government. There are also marked religious and societal differences throughout the region.

The strategic visions which have been drawn up over the years, first for Asia as a whole (in 1993) and later for the individual geographic areas, have had only a moderate impact in practice due to this heterogeneity.

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, developing the region’s economies into market economies and cooperating in the field of science and technology.

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

German policy on Asia aims to do justice to the continent’s modern-day diversity: alongside economic issues, social and security policy plays an increasingly important role. Key elements of this new approach include the involvement of 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 foreign policy at the regional, sub-regional and bilateral levels.

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