«Inhaltsverzeichnis Sebastian Bersick, Michael Bruter, Natalia Chaban, Sol Iglesias, Ronan Lenihan Asia in the Eyes of Europe: The EU’s Perception ...»
Sebastian Bersick, Michael Bruter, Natalia Chaban, Sol Iglesias, Ronan
Asia in the Eyes of Europe: The EU’s Perception of
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Sebastian Bersick, Michael Bruter, Natalia Chaban, Sol Iglesias, Ronan Lenihan Asia in the Eyes of Europe: Perceptions and Potentials
Annex: Sample Questions from the Public Opinion Questionnaire
About the Editors
About the Partners
About the Researchers
Asia in the Eyes of Europe: Perceptions and Potentials Sebastian Bersick, Michael Bruter, Natalia Chaban, Sol Iglesias, Ronan Lenihan Introduction The “Asia in the Eyes of Europe” research project provides an interesting journey through the insights and understanding of European citizens and media of ‘Asia’. The study set off to gauge perceptions of Asia in order to offer a glimpse into this vast and diverse continent from a European perspective. The central idea behind the project focuses on the understanding that the complex and diverging images that public, elites and media have of a different part of the world can determine the context of interactions between peoples and countries, and that perceptions offer an important layer to policy-making decisions and have an impact on how Asia and Europe engage with one another. Based on the principle that the study of perceptions “is a decisive factor in determining the expectations of others,”1 the study aims to provide information on these expectations, map out what ‘Asia’ looks like from Europe and, ultimately, facilitate problem-solving capacity building within and between the EU and its Asian partners.
Many factors help to shape how perceptions are created, but when examining perceptions of international actors, across a wide geographic and cultural divide, some factors play a larger role than others. Inevitably, personal connections are the first-hand interactions that can shape meaningful and long-lasting perceptions of the ‘other’ region. These interactions can sometimes inspire further links and a need to educate oneself of another region or people. Yet, they also can trigger a “negating reaction or a rigid entrenchment of the self.”2 Both of these outcomes are very important to how Europeans develop their perceptions of Asia. Since many people in Europe may only have limited direct interaction with Asia, the mass media (news and entertainment) provide the most comprehensive means to understand how citizens in Europe perceive Asia. Within the media, a number of factors exist that further shape the images of Asia and its actors and thus influence European citizens. The country chapters thus crucially delved not only into the imagery of Asia existing among the European general public and presented by the leading European press and televisions newscasts, but also into the perceptions of media professionals offering valuable insights into an industry that is increasingly dominated by the bottom line and profit margins. Essentially, what ‘sells’ is what styles newspaper pages and television news bites.
Looking deeper into this idea of what ‘sells’ and how market rationales influence news coverage on Asia in Europe, we need to understand the wider media agenda. The interviews with leading news writers and information ‘gatekeepers’ attest that priority is given to news 1 Kenneth Chan, “Images, Visibility and the Prospects of Soft Power of the EU in Asia: The Case of China,” Asia Europe Journal 8, no. 2, (2010): 133–147.
2 Silke Horskotte and Esther Peeren, The Shock of the Other: Situating Alterities. (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007).
Sebastian Bersick, Michael Bruter, Natalia Chaban, Sol Iglesias, Ronan Lenihan that is framed locally (i.e. inside a particular European country) and is relevant to its domestic audience. This is backed up by the higher volume of ‘locally framed’ Asia-related news items in the media analysis findings.3 A newsmaker’s physical proximity to a story is commonly understood to shape the focus of the news content. Yet, international news was no different — often, consideration of the domestic loss or gain was the central criterion in news selection. The study has also shown that the largest amount of news referencing Asia and its regional organisations originated from domestic sources (including local European correspondents on the ground in Asia), as opposed to international wires. In particular, Asian news wires were neglected. The genre of international news reported through domestically ‘tinted lenses’ involves more than just a specific thematic focus of an article, but also the choices in the language, length of the coverage and the tone. In a given environment, the tone and the volume of news frame the importance of an actor.
The media can therefore play a decisive role in shaping the public perception of international actors. Conceptualising the news media (print and broadcast) as a powerful instrument that helps to shape perceptions, the study of the news content and the media practices, coupled with the public opinion data, offers a solid in-depth insight into how the perceptions of Asia and its actors can be gauged in present-day Europe.
Finally, the mystery of public opinion is such that sometimes, the general public can hold significantly different images of a country or a region than what is painted in the mass media. In that sense, the results of our mass survey of Europeans’ perceptions of Asia are critical in that they reveal, at times, far more complex, subtle, or even more sophisticated connotations than some of the media ‘elites’ seem to believe.
The study results help to answer a number of crucial questions related to how Europeans perceive Asia and what actors (national and regional) constitute the regions in the European consciousness. In which context is Asia perceived as a unitary or a divided entity and, when divided, which countries are perceived as the dominant actors? In which global issues is Asia (and its actors) seen to play an important role? What do Asian regional bodies look like from a European perspective? Are they seen to play a significant role? Are they seen to have problem-solving capacity? Finally, is Asia perceived with positive or negative connotations, and what spontaneous images does the region evoke in Europeans’ minds? The
following sections summarise the main findings of the project in three issue-specific areas:
political, economic and socio-cultural images of Asia.
Political Images of Asia
As power shifts, from ‘the West’ to ‘the East’, the global world order is going through a transformation process towards a multipolar world. The emergence of developing economies has an unprecedented impact on the international political system and global governance structures and will continue to do so, for example through the G20, 3 The total number of Asia-related news items with a ‘local’ focus of domesticity was 36.8% (1,019) of the total sample.
BRICS4 and Growth85. Characteristic of this fundamental shift is an ‘emerging Asia’. It is important that policy-makers in Europe, at both national and regional levels, are able to reflect the consequences of this on-going power shift and acknowledge the major role that Asian actors and dynamics will play in this multipolar world. The results of this study help to paint a picture of how Europe sees ‘Asia’s rise’ in global politics and identify how Europeans view the major players, while interpreting knowledge gaps for policy-makers to address.
Looking specifically at the media analysis, of the 2,770 news items collected from twentynine media outlets over a period of three months, 19.4% (538 in total) of the news items framed Asia and its actors in political terms. Of those political affairs articles, 85.7% (461 in total) reported on individual countries (both members of ASEM and non-ASEM)6 in Asia with China being the most frequently mentioned Asian political actor, featuring in 43% of articles (232 in total). Arguably, this finding highlights a leading image of China as a dominant emerging actor within the Asian context, in this case as a political actor. Other visible ‘political field’ players are Japan, India, South Korea, yet none of them has enjoyed a similar level of media attention as China.
The interpretation of Asia through individual countries seems to show an overwhelming predominance of China at the expense of other Asian political actors, be they on the national, regional, inter-regional or global level. The volume of overall news citing Asian regional and inter-regional processes was remarkably low, with ASEAN featuring in a mere 1.5% of news items and APEC in 1.2%. The East Asian Summit (EAS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) were cited only occasionally. The volume of news on ASEM was also quite low (3.4% of all news items) and will be discussed separately. The interviewed journalists and editors explained that the diversity and fragmentation of Asia makes it very difficult to portray a sense of political coherence or even that of a regional entity. A common argument among the media respondents was that countries within Asia do not have a regional identity and act out of national interests, which in turn influence the message, especially in political news. For example, a French media professional from Le Monde commented that “China never speaks about Asia, China speaks of China. India speaks of India. Only ASEAN countries speak of Asia.... We have an ‘Asia desk’, but the things we do on China, things we do on Southeast Asia and things we do on the Indian subcontinent are completely different”.7 This kind of sentiment is evident among media professionals across other European countries in our sample, where the common news focus is centred on the national context and a ‘regional Asia’ is less apparent given the diversity of the region. One common recommendation shared by the media professionals interviewed in the course of this study was that regional 4 Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
5 BRICS plus Turkey, South Korea and Indonesia.
6 Non-ASEM references referred mostly to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and North Korea.
7 Interview conducted with an editorial director at the daily newspaper, Le Monde. The interview took place in Paris.
Sebastian Bersick, Michael Bruter, Natalia Chaban, Sol Iglesias, Ronan Lenihan
entities (such as ASEAN) should improve their communication practices with European media. Two immediate suggestions were to create direct lines of communication and to organise initiatives such as exchanges or partnerships between media professionals, organisations and networks, in order to improve understanding and facilitate interconnections.
In terms of data gathered in both the public opinion surveys and the interviews with media elites, some relatively similar trends emerged. These help to shed light on European perceptions of the ‘emerging Asia’ and its importance to Europe, both in the present and in the future. Looking at the areas for co-operation with Asia, the public opinion survey results illustrate that European citizens see Asia’s increasing importance in the world from economic and cultural perspectives, but not as much from a political one. When asked about the most important areas for co-operation with Asia, trade emerged as the most significant factor with an average of 34.6% of all responses, a somewhat predictable finding given the current economic climate. The second most important issue was “environmental protection” (16.1%), while “human rights and democracy” (15.6%) and “security and antiterrorism” (12.3%) also featured among the most popular choices. Interestingly, what is considered less important also provides information into the perceptions of Asia and its actors as well as into how respective countries should co-operate with Asia. Of these, “cultural co-operation”, “social welfare”, “energy and natural resources” and “development aid and assistance” scored very low and were deemed as the least important issues for engagement with Asia.
An analysis of the politically-framed news items referencing Asia revealed a number of most interesting discrepancies between the public views of significant political issues and the media coverage. Specifically, according to the public opinion survey, 16.1% of respondents viewed “environmental protection” as the most important issue for engagement with Asia. This was however not reflected in the news media analysis as only 3.5% of total news items (ninety-six in total) portrayed Asia and its actors under this thematic base. Arguably, this outlines a need to improve the scope and quality of media coverage of Asia and its actors — obviously, the environment is a salient matter for European citizens and is recognised as key to their states’ engagements with Asia on a political level.
Nonetheless, our analysis did discover numerous instances where the media imagery correlates positively with opinions expressed by the general public. For instance, media visibility of individual Asian countries as political actors corresponded to the public views on future importance for engagement with individual Asian partners. As displayed in Table 10.1, China (43.1%), Japan (25.5%), India (22.7%) and South Korea (22.1%) were the most cited Asian countries in the news items under the political frame.