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Brexit’s lessons for Asia


June 27, 2016

The most important Brexit lesson for Asia is that integration and community building can prevent wars and conflicts.

Brexit may mark the beginning of the disintegration of the EU with the loss of one of its largest members, but it should not slow down the ongoing political and economic integration of Asia now that the continent has taken the mantle as the centre of gravity of the the world economy. Asian countries, still far from forming a community, can learn a thing or two from Brexit, what to do and what not to do, as they ponder their own future.

Lesson one is that you have to have a sense of belonging to the community if you want it to work. Britain had always been half-hearted about its EU membership, opting out of some programmes like the common visa and the common currency. This selective picking defied the sense of a community where members engage in a genuine give-and-take process.

While we wait and see what becomes of the union without Britain, it is worth reminding Asia that the idea to form the EU goes back to 1950, aiming to promote greater political and economic integration.

Europe had gone through two ugly and destructive wars earlier in the 20th century, and given Europe countries’domination, they brought the rest of the world into their theatres of conflicts. For all we know, the EU, which evolved from a coal and steel community to a European Community and to its present state, may have prevented a third world war.

That is the second and most important Brexit lesson for Asia: that integration and community building can prevent wars and conflicts.

Asia is home to some of the major potential flash points which, if not managed, could drag nations into conflicts and even set off a third world war. The disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the tensions in the Taiwan Straits, Korean Peninsula and Kashmir are reminders that Asia has got its work cut out. And there is the threat of nuclear wars, with several Asian countries possessing or developing the weapons of mass destruction.

Britain’s exit from EU tells us that community building is difficult and challenging. Asia is even bigger than Europe, far less homogenous and more complex. But it should not stop Asian countries from trying to engage and integrate better politically and economically with one another. Unlike Britain, we should start by building a greater sense of community.