MANIPUR, India, July 15 (UPI) -- "East is east, and west is west, and ne'er the twain shall meet." Rudyard Kipling's words appear to be the motto of the leaders of Europe, who are trying to insulate themselves from Asia.
The European Union is attempting to create a political community by uniting the different peoples of Europe. Rather than import human talent from wherever it is plentiful -- South India and East Asia, for example -- the core of the EU, France and Germany, are pouring lavish resources into attempting to make the people of former Soviet satellites leapfrog away from their statist past to the era of modern economies.
However, this "Look only at Europeans" policy may boomerang on the West, especially because Eastern Europe is demanding the same social infrastructure as the West has, a wish that would, if fulfilled drain even West European countries of their international competitiveness because of the huge financial costs involved. This will be especially harmful in a context where the "Made in Europe" label is losing its premium.
Genetically, even discounting the prevalent theory that the 6 billion human beings on the planet evolved from a handful of prehistoric human beings in Africa, the reality is that social conditioning and education can make productive the people of any part of the world. Rather than retard progress, an admixture of ethnicities has -- most visibly in the case of the United States -- resulted in an increase in productivity rather than the degeneration feared by Adolf Hitler, Jean-Marie Le Pen and Enoch Powell.In any case, most Europeans themselves have infusions of alien blood, such as that of the early Mongol invaders and immigrants from other parts. Apart perhaps from a few fishing communities in Norway, few Europeans have been untouched by this intermingling.
Historically, there has always been an exchange of information and technique between Asia and Europe at least from the times of the Roman Empire. Today that process continues with both continents depending on each other for markets and produce.
The leaders of France and Germany are implicitly assuming that a gangster from Tirana, a counterfeiter from Bucharest and a smuggler from Sofia would be a better neighbor to have in Hamburg or Lyon than a computer engineer from Chennai or a biotechnologist from Bangkok or Singapore. The focus is solely on migrants from East into Western Europe rather than tapping into the best talent available, especially from locations with a history of adherence to democracy and the rule of law.
Europe's fear of getting swamped by a flood of immigrants from Asia is palpable. However, rather than seek to create a firewall against all immigration, it would benefit the more developed EU members more were they to carefully sieve and filter all intending immigrants, letting in only those who have the financial or intellectual capacity to make an immediate contribution to their new home and who demonstrate a respect for Western societal norms and practices.
Indeed, unless the financial costs of the flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe is at least partially offset by the entry of highly productive individuals from Asia, these will drag down competiveness and result in a higher tax burden on Western Europeans. Both Canada and Australia have understood the need to balance the costs of inducting impoverished Eastern Europeans with a flow of well-heeled migrants from Asia. Sadly for their people, the EU leadership has yet to factor in such common sense in their policies.
Ironically, while barring the productive peoples of the fast-developing Asian countries, Western Europe is continuing to open its doors to criminal elements from countries in Asia and North Africa who use the many loopholes in the existing asylum laws to enter and stay, competing with the Albanian, Romanian, Russian and Bulgarian gangs now springing up like weeds across "Old" Europe
Hopefully, now that both apartheid and the caste system have ceased to be internationally acceptable, the builders of the "new" Europe will accept that the process cannot be complete without the full involvement of Asia. On the other end of the Eurasian landmass, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and much of ASEAN is creating a trading bloc that in a generation could outstrip Europe. To the south, India is on course for high growth, especially in the knowledge economy.
A partnership confined only to the countries in Europe is not a sufficient condition for high growth. What is needed is to tap the synergy available in the powerhouses of Asia. What is needed are not two blocs -- a European Union and an Asian Common Market differentiating themselves from each other -- but rather a single entity, a Euro-Asian Union.
Europe and Asia are joined at the hip by geography. What is needed is a network of highways, railways and other links that unite the two parts of this single landmass into an engine of growth that spans the globe. Rather than think of themselves as "Asians" and "Europeans," both sides need to consider themselves first as "Euro-Asians," and only thereafter as "Western Europens" or "East Asians." Or, further disaggregated, as Koreans, Indians, Germans or French.
By creating a mental Maginot Line between Europe and Asia, the architects of the new Europe are once again gambling away their future through an illusion of security. What is needed is for the leaders of the frontline countries across the Eurasian landmass to meet together and work out the outlines of what should eventually be a Euro-Asia Common Market.
Unlike the institutional arrangements for trans-Atlantic co-operation and consultation, the mechanisms now in place for contacts between Europe and Asia are derisory. Indeed, the "Europe-Asia Summits" that are periodically held to yawns from the international community do not include even India, a country that is home to more than a billion people.
To a considerable extent, the fault for this lies in the Asian countries themselves, which have formed separate groups with only minimal communication with the others. For example, East Asia has only recently begun reaching out to South Asia, while West Asia is seen by both as a unique zone difficult to understand and impossible to mesh with, except via the unrepresentative regimes in place there.
The consequences of such isolation have been an increasing distance between West Asia and the rest of the world, not just the rest of the continent. What is immediately needed is for the Asian powers to set aside their feuds enough to meet and work together on issues where there is common interest. However, rather than wait passively for this to take place, the leaders of Europe need to take the initiative in convening meetings of themselves and the major players in Asia as a preliminary step towards a full Europe-Asia forum.
Such a "Euro-Asia Union" would be very different from the present-day European Union. There would be no automatic permission to enter and work in the member countries, as there is within the EU. However, formal structures for consultation and joint action will get created that over time would evolve into a small secretariat, situated perhaps in Istanbul.
Keeping in view past sensibilities, the focus would be on the economic and the cultural rather than simply on security. Asian countries get irritated when given lectures by European leaders who have made an almighty mess in the Balkans and are on the way to doing so in Afghanistan - and, in the case of the Britain, in Iraq as well
Despite some European leaders being familiar with the Bible, especially the injunction about doing unto your neighbor that you would have him or her do unto yourself, few statespersons in Europe understand the psychological resentment felt in Asia when they see European troops landing in their neighborhood. Europeans should consider what their own reaction would be were Indian and Chinese soldiers to set up bases in Europe. The wounds of the colonization of Asia by Europe have not healed and will not till a system gets created in which decisions that affect the entire Eurasian landmass get taken jointly, rather than get imposed by the EU in partnership with the United States as is often attempted at present.
Nearly 60 years after World War II, the residues of history need to get removed from the mental geography of every Euro-Asian. It is no longer acceptable to carry a "post-colonial" complex that still makes the coming to high office of a Sonia Gandhi unacceptable to many in a country that has been her home for nearly 40 years merely on the grounds of her Italian origin, or the stereotyping of Asians by Europeans and the innate tribalism that drives so much of European policy towards Asia.
The reality is that Europe needs Asia as much as Asia needs Europe. The logic that created the European Union needs to get extended further so as to cover the entire Eurasian landmass, which logically should be seen as a single continent.
Were such a perception to begin to take root, then the latent nationalisms and ethnic stereotyping that can cause alienation may to a considerable extent be avoided. Rather than see each other in a Kiplingesque way as two mutually exclusive spheres, people on both sides of Euro-Asia need to be reminded of their links and the common interest that binds each to the other.
Today, through its narcissicistic obsession with itself, Europe is in danger of getting emotionally isolated from an Asia that is interlinking itself strongly with the New World. Should this process of attempting to seal off Europe from Asia continue, then it is likely that Asian countries will follow the European example and seek to diminish the level of penetration that Europe has in Asia, even to the extent of creating an Asian version of NATO that excludes Europe while taking in the United States, Canada and Australia.
The Great Wall of China did not succeed in preventing non-Hans from taking over that ancient country, and neither will the a new Great Wall of Europe succeed in maintaining that continent's current pre-eminence in the economic sphere. Rather, what is needed is for Europe to welcome interaction with Asia, including in culture. It should not raise eyebrows for a cheong-san or a sari to be worn in Vienna, just as it does not in Mumbai or Shanghai when a set of denims or a pant-suit is worn by a young lady.
Bollywood should mix with Hollywood, the way Indian and Chinese cuisine already do. The choice for Europe is clear: Go your own way and lose out, or team up with Asia and ensure that the whole of this huge, single landmass gains.
(M. D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in Manipal, India.)