What has happened in Europe over the last 50 years since the Treaty of Rome is truly remarkable. It has shown that nations with different ambitions and dreams can be molded into a single matrix of unity in diversity. It is a triumph of reason over vanity. The common legacy of a thousand years of wars and misery, with Christianity and Hellenistic culture binding them all, have cemented a New Europe committed to the pursuit of peace and prosperity. Europe's momentum of integration has hardly slowed; it is expected to keep expanding to the east until it reaches the Ural Mountains.
What implications does the European Union model have for Asia? Should Asia follow this path, build a single market and a borderless region? The answer, I believe, is unequivocally yes. Already, Japan and South Korea, despite their political differences and never-ending squabbles over a history of conquest and apology, are quietly talking about waving visa requirements for each other’s citizens. Their steel and automobile industries are closely linked through mutual investment and exchanges of technology. China and India, with a combined population of 2.3 billion, have become a major market for Korean goods. East Asians, at least, are building these increasingly peaceful interactions upon a common heritage of Buddhism and Confucian culture.
But is Asia politically ready for such a big leap? Not yet, but it is clearly becoming more aware of the possibility, thanks to the pace of economic empowerment. What Asia needs today are an Asian Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman to launch the debate over future regional integration. Asia has not had a towering visionary leader since the departure of Gandhi.
Two things are vital for this process to begin: the speedy achievement of regional economic integration, spreading the desire for further development and prosperity within a borderless Asia. Development also helps end war and focus efforts on conflict resolution; after all, the parties have more to lose. At the same time, regional powers like Japan and China must take the lead in starting an Asian version of the Helsinki Process by launching an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Asia, to promote dialogue and detente. Promotion of human rights and exchanges of science, technology and culture within the region should be facilitated by this multilateral channel.
Arrival of the age of development in China and India, Asia's two largest nations, has made it possible to start dreaming about an Asian Union based on economic benefits and common political aspirations. The success of the European Union has shown the way. Asia can, and should, follow its path. It is the way of the future.
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