“Europe needs a stronger presence in South Asia” | Political economics



Jsunday news spoke with Mirco Günther, head of the Asia-Pacific department of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). He previously served as the Director of the FES Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia based in Singapore from 2019 to 2022 and led projects on geopolitics and geoeconomics, the economy of tomorrow and the future of work across the Asia region. Peaceful. From 2016 to 2019, he was director of the FES Afghanistan office in Kabul and coordinator of the FES Asia Peace and Security project.

Prior to joining the FES, Günther held various senior positions within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from 2009 to 2016. Supported by the German Foreign Ministry, he served as Head of Mission deputy and business manager at the OSCE Mission in Kazakhstan, Deputy Team Leader of the OSCE Monitoring Mission in Eastern Ukraine and Head of Political Affairs at the OSCE Mission in Tajikistan. He is a member of the civilian expert pool of the German Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF).

Mirco Günther was a McCloy Fellow at Harvard University and president of the German-American Conference at Harvard. He holds an MPA from the John F Kennedy School of Government and an MLitt in Middle East and Central Asian Security Studies from the University of St Andrews. He also earned a BA in Political Science from Freie Universität Berlin and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).

He is a frequent commentator in national and international media on Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, security and diplomatic affairs. Mirco Günther is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), Tönissteiner Kreis and alumnus of Atlantic-Brücke Young Leaders.

JSunday news (TNS): What is the reach of the FES in Asia? How many offices does it have in the region? Would you like to highlight some major achievements of FES in Asia during your tenure?

Mirco Gunther (MG): The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is Germany’s oldest political foundation, established in 1925 as a legacy of Friedrich Ebert, Germany’s first democratically elected president. We maintain a network of over 100 offices worldwide, including 15 country and regional offices in Asia-Pacific. As we approach our 100th anniversary, the activities of the FES are dedicated to the ideas and values ​​of social democracy. We work to promote social justice and focus on topics such as political education and participation, gender justice, climate change, the future of work and tomorrow’s economy, geopolitics and business international. The FES office in Pakistan was established in 1990. We work with our government and civil society partners to support dialogue between Pakistan and Germany, South Asia and Europe. I have only recently taken over the helmet of the FES Asia-Pacific department and I am very happy to be in Pakistan to meet partners and friends.

TNS: What impact did the war in Ukraine have on Germany and Asia?

MG: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upset the European security order. We are in the midst of a major reorganization of our world. Germany has set in motion a paradigm shift in its foreign, security, economic and energy policies – a historic turning point called Zeitenwende in German and European political discourse. This includes a €100 billion special fund to close critical gaps in military capabilities, more and faster investment in renewables, diversification of energy imports to end dependence on Germany towards Russian fossil fuels and massive relief programs to counter soaring energy, electricity and food prices, especially for the most vulnerable groups in our society. The global repercussions of the war are deep and hard felt in Asian countries, including Pakistan. We all share the same concerns about shortages of raw materials, the worsening hunger crisis, and uncertainties about energy costs and imports.

TNS: Beyond the traditional politico-economic relations with China and India, do you think that Germany is extending its influence in Asia?

MG: The German government is making considerable efforts to reach old and new partners beyond the Western alliance. Asia, as the world’s center of gravity, will play a crucial role in shaping the future of international order, security, trade and the global economy. Germany and the European Union have proposed Indo-Pacific strategies that emphasize the need to diversify partnerships. Their approach is broad and comprehensively covers a wide range of areas, including climate change, health, digitalisation, economic cooperation, connectivity, security and defence, as well as research and innovation. We recognize Pakistan’s key role in security and stability in South Asia and beyond and understand that Pakistan is an important pillar of Germany’s expanded reach in the region.

TNS: As head of FES Asia, what role do you see Germany playing in the wake of a changing world order, especially with regard to the Indo-Pacific region?

MG: We all need to do a much better job of listening and putting ourselves in our partners’ shoes. The mixed global reactions to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine show that we need a more strategic dialogue in order to better understand each other’s interests, grievances and priorities. Germany can play a key role in this dialogue as a facilitating and moderating voice.

It also means that we must recognize the complexity of the problems to be solved. The binary discourse of “democracies versus autocracies”, to take an example, is not helpful in this respect and is shared by only a few. While it is of paramount importance that we build our democratic resilience, the realities of the Asia-Pacific region are more complicated. Geopolitically, highly industrialized countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore have joined Western sanctions against Russia to varying degrees. But developing and emerging Asia, in particular, has gone to great lengths to avoid taking sides in the conflict between Russia and the West and between China and the United States. Aware of the multiple challenges of their own development trajectories, they must maneuver carefully between the poles. At the same time, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have a vital interest in upholding the rules-based international order. They oppose a world order with exclusive zones of influence and reject notions of unipolarity or bipolarity. It’s a perspective we all share and a solid cornerstone for moving partnerships forward.

TNS: In view of the recent bilateral meetings between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Germany in Islamabad and Berlin, how do you see the bilateral relations between the two countries?

MG: Pakistan and Germany have a long-standing relationship. Last year, they celebrated the 70th anniversary of their bilateral relations. Germany is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the European Union. Pakistan’s main exports to Germany are textiles, leather goods, sports and footwear, and medical equipment. Given Pakistan’s important role in global textile production, the FES has been working for many years to promote core labor and sustainability standards under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) between Pakistan and the Union. European.

Pakistan plays a crucial role in regional and global security: as a nuclear power, a major contributor to UN peacekeeping missions and, very importantly, as a key partner for Germany in Afghanistan, especially this year. , with the German G7 Presidency and the Pakistani G77 Presidency. A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan that contributes to stability and connectivity is in everyone’s interest. We are all gravely concerned about the alarming humanitarian and human rights situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan has felt the immediate impact of decades of war in and around Afghanistan more than any other country. It bears a heavy humanitarian burden and needs the continued support of the international community.

While Europe will focus on the devastating situation in Ukraine and Russia’s aggression in the immediate future, we must not lose sight of the challenges elsewhere. Security in Europe and the Indo-Pacific are deeply linked. And while we all must prioritize and match ends with limited means, Afghanistan demands our attention. The tragic events of the past year, the hasty withdrawal of the international coalition and the seizure of power by the Taliban, have created a security dilemma and a vacuum that the countries of South and Central Asia feel the most.

TNS: What can be the potential areas of cooperation between Germany and Pakistan given the technological and industrial prowess of the first vis à vis the enormous untapped potential of human and material resources of the latter?

MG: The areas of bilateral cooperation are multifaceted and include trade, investment, climate change, people-to-people contacts, security and development cooperation; the latter emphasizing renewable energy, vocational training, good governance and health care. The climate partnership between Pakistan and Germany will become even more important in the future in light of this year’s devastating floods. We were all shocked to see an area roughly the size of Germany completely covered in water and deeply saddened by the loss of lives and livelihoods. The German government continues to provide rapid humanitarian aid and is working with Pakistan to expand cooperation on climate protection, disaster management and access to international climate finance.

Germany’s technological and industrial prowess could perhaps also be useful in the coming recovery effort when it comes to rebuilding infrastructure and investing in green technologies. Germany and Europe will need to step up their commitment to connectivity in the region, for example, through the EU’s Global Gateway and bilateral initiatives, especially in view of broader geopolitical dynamics. If European capitals do not step in and come up with credible and meaningful offers, others will continue to fill this void. A geopolitical Europe needs a stronger footprint in Pakistan and South Asia.

The writer is a presenter and correspondent for PTV World and has a keen interest in national security, international security affairs and human rights. She can be contacted via Twitter: @TayyabaNKhan

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