Shada Islam, Friends of Europe
Shada Islam is the head of the Asia Programme at Friends of Europe - a Brussels-based European think-tank promoting discussion and debate on the future of the EU.
For over 25 years, she has covered Europe-Asia relations as a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the German News Agency. As an expert on Asia, she has broadcast experience with the BBC, Radio France, Deutsche Welle and Radio Netherlands.
She continues to actively write and publish for leading publications on topics such as the integration of Muslim immigrants in Europe and EU ties to Asia.
1. What are your current priorities in your work at Friends of Europe?
The short answer is that we aim to promote stronger strategic cooperation between Asia and Europe. We believe this is critical if we are to tackle key global challenges of the 21st Century. The longer answer is that since the tangible shift in global economic and political power to Asia has far-reaching consequences for the European Union, the Asia Programme at Friends of Europe seeks to study and analyse the myriad of ways in which an ascending, dynamic and self-confident Asia impacts the EU. The rise of Asia is no longer just a foreign policy challenge for Europe. Joint actions with Asian nations are required to tackle global concerns such as climate change, international trade, investments and business, energy security, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, poverty alleviation and human security. Defusing global flashpoints - North Korea, Iran, Burma - require cooperation with Asia. Europe cannot meet its aspirations of becoming a powerful global actor without engaging more actively with a rising Asia. However, Asians are increasingly unsure about Europe's interest in their region and wonder whether Europe is still a relevant global actor. The challenge we face therefore is to push, urge and help the EU to develop a strategic vision for its relations with Asia.
2. How does the rise of Asia affect transatlantic relations?
In today's interconnected and globalised world, peace, stability and prosperity require strong cooperation and consultation between all key players, including of course the US, Europe and leading Asian countries such as Japan, China, India and Indonesia. Transatlantic relations are of course strong - trade and investments are booming - and security cooperation between Europe and the US is intensifying regarding post-revolution assistance to countries in North Africa and the Middle East as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, while the US has already forged strong partnerships with most Asian countries, the EU is still struggling to upgrade its political and diplomatic profile in Asia. Also, there has been some concern in Europe about the emergence of a so-called "G2" which would bring China and the US together but exclude the EU. Both Beijing and Washington have denied this - but the EU remains suspicious. So I suppose the rise of Asia is increasing transatlantic competition as regards making friends and influencing people in the region.
3. What are the differences between Europe and the US in their respective approaches to Asia?
The US is undoubtedly the dominant player in Asia because of the security/military umbrella and alliances it offers to many Asian countries. America's political profile in the region is also very strong and set to become even stronger now that the US is a member of the East Asia Summit. In addition, the Obama Administration made clear from the start that relations with Asia are very high up on Washington's foreign policy agenda. Since then, both the President and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been frequent visitors to Asia and cultivated strong personal relations with the region's leaders. In contrast, the EU, is still largely pre-occupied with the situation in its immediate neighbourhood, including the Balkans and now the Arab Spring. This means that Asia is not a top foreign policy priority. In addition, with no claims to be a military power, the EU is still struggling to improve its standing and reputation in the region. Many Asian countries recognise Europe's economic clout - the EU is the largest trade and investment partners for many Asians - but have yet to recognise and accept Europe as a partner in security. European "soft power" means, however, that Asian countries are struggling to meet European rules and regulations on food, consumer goods, chemicals and the like.
4. What advice would you give to students interested in pursuing a career in international relations?
Go for it! There's nothing more interesting than international politics, especially in the 21st Century. As the world changes rapidly, it is fascinating to see just which countries are able to adapt to the shift in global power structures and those which continue to cling to the past. China's rise and its impact on the rest of the world is a complete story in itself. But I am also excited by the new role being played by Turkey and Indonesia, for instance. Across the world new alliances and new formations are emerging - BRICS, G20 to name just two - and newly empowered nations are demanding a reform of global governance structures in order to have a seat at the top table. The use of social media is changing the way nations and people talk to each other. Oppressive regimes are falling, civil society is emerging as a strong actor in international relations. As I said it is exciting stuff. A career in international relations means life without a dull moment.