10 October 2011

Asia in the Eyes of Europe - Public and Media Perceptions of Asia in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities for External Relations with Asia

I admit I assumed it would be a boring evening with under-funded Austria-based researchers regurgitating eurocentric conceptualisations of Asia. It also isn't promising to know that most Austrian research on Asia tends to focus around China or Japan - the usual suspects (as you might know, the University of Vienna, Austria's largest university, does not have a Southeast Asia department but three on East Asia). But lo behold! It turned out to be an exciting presentation of quite a vast aggregation of data from a huge multi-year project across several countries where thousands of people were surveyed!

The research was conducted on three levels:
  • Public opinion (through telephone surveys by native speakers and localised questionnaires for each national context of the respondents)
  • Media analysis (counting the times key words were mentioned in the daily media and then analysing in which context (ie particular European politicians) or a particular topic (politics, sports) or a particular organisation (ie EU bodies)
  • Expert interviews with established journalists
It was probably thanks to my being starved for stimulating debates on Asia, my curiosiity to explore the Austrian institutional landscape that I went anyway - and I am glad that I did. It is not everyday that you get to meet members of a global research consortium involving partners in some twenty countries taking on the gigantic tasks of interviewing thousands of people over a considerable period of time. Besides, if I'm back in the country where most regional research is intra-European, I might as well take any opportunity I can get to seek bridges to my beloved Asia and get to know the local who's who of Asia scholars.

You can find the Media Reports for each country here.

The panelists consisted of:
  • Mr. Otmar Höll - Director of oiip who delivered the welcome remarks
  • Ms. Anjeli Narandran - Assistant Director for Intellectual exchange at the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) who chaired the discussion
  • Ms. Melanie Pichler - Researcher for oiip (= the Austrian Institute for International Politics)
  • Mr. Sebastian Bersick - Research Coordinator, „Asia in the Eyes of Europe“ and Associate Fellow DGAP (German Council on Foreign Relations)
  • Ms. Natalia Chaban - Deputy Director NCRE (National Centre for the Research on Europe at the University of Canterbury, NZ)
  • Mr. Bernhard Zimburg - Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (who spent quite some time stationed in Asia)
The fact that the event took place at the House of the European Union (basically, the EU 'embassy' in Vienna) made for an equally interesting mix of participants apart from East Asia professors from the University of Vienna: The representative from the Japanese embassy for example lamented the fact that local knowledge about Japan tends to revolve around stereotypes such as popular culture (ie mangas, martial arts) and calligraphy. Referring to the project's earlier sister project Europe in the eyes of Asia, the representative from the Philippine embassy on the other hand suggested that the European Union needed to "market itself better" in the Philippines, as people there usually associate Europe with particular countries rather than a democratic political entity.

The findings of Asia through the eyes of Europe are going to be published in June 2012.
You can find the 2nd edition of the sister study Europe through the eyes of Asia if you click on its cover below:

You can also find more information on the project here.

About ASEF:
Founded in 1997, a year after the inaugural Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) between 25 European and East Asian countries and the European Commission, the Asia-Europe Foundation promotes greater mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through intellectual, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Through ASEF, civil society concerns are included as a vital component of deliberations of the ASEM. ASEF is the only established institution of ASEM and is funded by voluntary contributions from its partner governments and shares the financing of its projects with its civil society partners across Asia and Europe. Since its inception, ASEF has implemented over 500 projects, engaging over 15,000 direct participants as well as reaching out to a much wider audience in Asia and Europe. - From the ASEF website.

About oiip:
The Austrian Institute for International Affairs is an independent, non-profit think-tank. The oiip was the first institute in Austria to focus on globalization, European integration, comprehensive security, and the comparative study of international affairs. Established in 1978 by the then Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, the Institute has advised on public policy, conducted primary scientific research, supported the international academic exchange and played a key role in hosting international conferences and as a venue for second track-diplomacy. Members of the Institute publish widely, are consulted by the government, and regularly feature in the national media. The Institute maintains a number of publications, and works closely with other national and international research institutions.

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