Event Reports

Sustainable Management in Europe and Asia

by Johannes Vogel

Workshop on the role of energy and climate issues in EU-Asian economic cooperation

Ensuring sustainability in global management as well as climate and energy policy was the focus of the 6th Workshop on EU-Asian Relations, organised by KAS RECAP in cooperation with UACES and the European Union Centre in Taiwan. 60 experts and young professionals from European and Asian think tanks, universities and enterprises met in Taipei to discuss the complex challenges ahead of a stronger regional cooperation.

The protectionist stance on trade and the climate change skepticism of the new US administration have created new incentives for Europe and Asia to strengthen their historically close relationship even further. The concept of sustainability – both economically and environmentally – is a key concern that both sides of the Eurasian continent increasingly seek to incorporate into their regional and national policy agendas. While this commitment was most recently put on display at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2016, stark differences between many of the national political and economic systems persist. Thus, the KAS UACES workshop sought to inspire participants in finding new solutions to challenges that both regions are facing.

Multiple high-ranking European diplomats also visited the conference to give lectures. Madeleine Majorenko, director of the European Economic and Trade Office in Taiwan, used her keynote speech to highlight the unique leadership role of the EU in global energy and climate policy. Martin Eberts, director the German Institute in Taipei, outlined the current state of German-Taiwan relations and emphasized the future potential of a stronger cooperation in economic matters and in the area of energy policy.

Grouped by topics such as “The Belt and Road Initiative” or “Legal Frameworks”, experts and business leaders presented their research findings, experiences, and concepts in multiple panels. Participants used the Q&A sessions to debate arguments and recommendations. The presentations and discussions covered a wide range of topics, which focused on the following overarching questions of a future EU-Asian cooperation:

  • A) Sustainable Development: What impact do global politics have on the Transeurasian cooperation? How can both sides overcome their political differences in order to remove obstacles and consolidate support for sustainable policies? What are the possibilities and constraints of green investment?
  • B) New Silk Road: What potential does the “One Belt One Road” initiative (OBOR) offer the two subcontinents it aims to connect? How should Europe interact with China in order to benefit from OBOR while also asserting its own interests? Which diplomatic, regulatory, and technical challenges do both regions have to tackle?
  • C) Energy policy: Can the German energy transition serve as a blueprint for East Asian countries and if so, how should it be adapted? What implications do China’s plans for increasing nuclear power generation have for Europe? What consequences do foreign investments have on the energy demand of the Chinese economy?
  • D) Environmental protection and urbanisation: How successful are the current plans for urban development in China? To what extent can Asian cities learn from the European experience? How could China switch to nationwide electromobility?
Ad A: Strengthening the cooperation between China and the EU has become even more urgent in recent months due to the altered views of climate change and an ambiguous foreign policy of the third major actor on the global stage, the United States. While Europe and China have a lot in common, it remains unclear to what extent diverging views on human rights, competition rules, and appropriate political intervention in the economy will impact future cooperation. Trade embargoes complicate the relationship even further. A Free Trade Agreement between the two regions has not been established yet, but would likely require China to agree to wide-ranging reforms. On the business level, green bonds and investments seem promising, but are still in their infancy.

Ad B: Like its historic predecessor, the New Silk Road stretches from China to Europe. The Chinese government has started to invest in Eastern European infrastructure projects (in addition to Central Asia) and in return expects a privileged access to regional and local markets. The EU is set to mark the starting point of an efficient network of rail transport to East Asia. As a result of the “One Belt One Road” initiative, the exchange of human capital, goods, and services, but also of good practices, is set to grow faster than ever before. However, according to a news analysis, China usually does not consider the EU as a serious partner – the organization’s role in the Silk Road Initiative being a notable exception. Instead, China tends to focus on bilateral relations to more powerful European countries such as Germany or France.

Ad C: The German Energy Transition is met with great interest in Asia. While most countries in the region praise Germany as a role model, many doubt whether the German model can serve as a blueprint for Asia. Still, Taiwan has officially declared its commitment to following the example of the German “Energiewende”. Only time will tell if the liberalisation of the Taiwanese energy economy will support the development of renewable energy as claimed by the national government. According to research of workshop participant, both the adaptation of concepts and the transfer of capital to Asia have a positive impact on the Chinese energy sector. For example, factories in Northern China that are built using foreign investments use significantly less energy than their locally-financed counterparts.

Ad D: The previous Five-Year Plans have proposed ambitious aims for environmental protection in China. Multiple pilot projects of sustainable and low-carbon city areas are currently being implemented, for instance in Shenzhen and Ningbo. Since both cities are home to international harbours, the Chinese government can hope for a boost in public image. Similar projects, albeit on a much smaller scale, are scattered throughout China. In some cases, they are initiated by the Chinese government in cooperation with NGOs like the WWF. However, case studies have shown that coordination between the executing authorities and the public remains difficult. Other Chinese initiatives focus on making transport more sustainable. Some harbours have already set their own goals for the reduction of carbon emissions. Furthermore, public-private partnerships are supposed to help realise a vast network of publicly available charging station for electric vehicles.

As a final highlight of the workshop, KAS RECAP, UACES, and the European Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan invited participants to a luncheon discussion, where business leaders shared their views on the potential and challenges of a stronger cooperation on the Eurasian continent. A detailed report of the event can be found here.