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THE CHALLENGES OF STUDYING THE EU IN SOUTHEAST ASIA / Professor of the Department of International Studies De La Salle University in Manila Alfredo C. Robles, Jr.

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Common Challenges for Southeast Asia

In an article published several years ago, I underligned the numerous and substantial gaps in our knowledge of ASEAN-EU relations.* The few Southeast Asian scholars who wrote about ASEAN-EU relations wrote in very general terms about the subject; it is not rare to find an article that covered the entire range of relations in twenty pages (or less). The authors were usually unaware of the existing literature and often did not pursue their research after making their contribution to a conference, which was the standard reason for writing on ASEAN-EU relations. To make matters worse, a large number lacked substantive knowledge of the technical issues that are often at the heart of controversies in ASEAN-EU relations. None of the other Southeast Asian scholars consistently pursued a research agenda focusing exclusively on ASEAN-EU relations.

It is clear that in the future, specialists of ASEAN-EU relations must have a thorough knowledge of the politics and economics of the EU as well as of its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This knowledge must be theoretically grounded, going beyond historical and institutional approaches. Equally important, if not more so, European specialists must have a broad knowledge of the general international issues that appear on the agenda of ASEAN-EU meetings: the WTO, foreign direct investment, antidumping, SPS, regulatory reform, regionalization in East Asia, internationalization of services, to name a few. If possible, they should be competent in at least one official language of the EU other than English. This is a very tall order indeed.

Perhaps the way forward lies in regional cooperation among East Asian academic institutions that teach and do research on European studies. In the past, Chulalongkorn University occasionally invited Southeast Asian scholars to participate in the academic conferences organized by its European Studies program. The Macau Institute of European Studies played a pioneering role in bringing together academics from the entire East Asian region, thanks to the regular conferences that it sponsored and subsequently through the network funded by the European Commission. Last, but not least, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), based in Singapore, took the initiative of establishing a network called ESIA (European Studies in Asia), which has already held several meetings in various Asian countries. These initiatives are extremely useful for establishing networks among academics who may sometimes feel isolated in their own institutions, and perhaps even in their own countries. The next and more formidable challenge facing us is the training at the doctoral level of the next generation of Southeast Asian specialists of European studies.

* "The Challenges of Knowledge Generation in ASEAN-EU Relations," Asia-Pacific Journal of EU Studies, 4:1 (Summer 2006), pp. 71-94.

Alfredo C. Robles, Jr.

Alfredo C. Robles, Jr.

Alfredo C. Robles, Jr. is professor of the Department of International Studies, De La Salle University in Manila. He taught a course: “The European Union and the Developing Countries” at the Graduate School of Law, Keio University from September to December in 2009 as a visiting professor of this Project. He is one of the leading scholars on EU politics in Southeast Asia and he has published many articles and books on EU-Southeast Asia Relations.


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