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Asia-Europe Summit: Is the EU Gaining Ground in the Indo-Pacific? | Asia | An in-depth look at current events on the continent | DW


European leaders renew their calls for strengthening diplomatic relations with Indo-Pacific countries, amid geopolitical challenges posed by China and changes in transatlantic relations under the Trump era.

At the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that “Asia matters to Europe”.

During the two-day virtual conference, the leaders of the European Union and Asia agreed to cooperate to revive their economies in the era of the pandemic, improve supply chains, promote digitization and work to the achievement of low carbon and inclusive societies.

European Council President Charles Michel also underlined the importance of respecting the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which underlines the bloc’s interest in strengthening military cooperation, trade, health, infrastructure and environment in the region.

“We have decided to strengthen our strategic direction and our actions with the region, and our new EU strategy for cooperation with the Indo-Pacific sends a strong signal,” he said in a statement to the outcome of the ASEM meeting.

Garima Mohan, Asian Program Member of the German Marshall Fund, welcomed the statement. “There has been a global shift in foreign relations where Western powers are focusing on the Indo-Pacific region,” Mohan told DW. “It turns into a big power competition as to who has the most influence in the region.”

“As far as the EU is concerned, what is different now is not so much the bloc’s footprint in the Indo-Pacific, but the understanding that the EU needs to view this region more strategically than by the past, ”she added.

Why the renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific?

The Indo-Pacific region has not always been an area of ​​interest for the EU.

“Two years ago EU leaders didn’t even use the term Indo-Pacific because it was seen as ‘anti-China’ and it’s still seen that way by some EU countries who depend on the Chinese market for economic growth. But the Indo-Pacific is here to stay, “Frederick Kliem, researcher and lecturer at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told DW.

“Interest in the region really started during US President Barack Obama’s second term when America shifted its strategic priorities to focusing on the Indo-Pacific due to geopolitical tensions with China. , will not prioritize the “Russian problem” of the EU. “

“And then something is happening in international relations that we observe all the time. If you need someone for your own safety, you will show this country that you are willing to engage to some extent elsewhere. therefore led to the Indo of the EU-Pacific Awakening, ”he added.

But according to a recent survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations, some EU member states are taking an economic approach to the region rather than a strategic one, in order to assert their neutrality and not choose between the United States and China.

As China’s influence grows in the world, the United States and countries like India, Japan, and Australia increasingly view China as a security threat.

But tackling China’s influence has been a challenge for the EU, as it is also the bloc’s biggest trading partner.

Does Europe view China as a security threat?

Kliem believes European countries are more concerned about threats from Russia than from China.

“China is not a security problem for Europe. Europeans are concerned about Russia,” Kliem said. “So if this is the case, why would you want to risk your important economic relations with China by investing a lot of money in the military and defense in remote areas of the Indo-Pacific?” “

However, Mohan of the German Marshall Fund believes that the EU should not remain neutral towards China.

“What I found interesting about the Indo-Pacific strategy is the language that offers a multi-faceted approach to China. The EU says it will cooperate with China for economic purposes, but when there are differences in core values ​​the EU will push back, Mohan said.

“When the tensions are high, you can’t stay neutral because it’s not safe.” she stressed.

Meanwhile, Kliem believes that the EU needs to reorganize its approach to the Indo-Pacific by better understanding the expectations of its partners in the region.

“Where the EU’s influence is already very strong and where it can continue to make a difference in the region, is in capacity building to ensure maritime security. Knowledge of the maritime domain is a real problem in Southeast Asia, where countries fear the presence of China. This is where the EU can step in to help countries maintain security in the South China Sea and also tackle issues such as piracy, ”he said.

In addition, at the recent ASEM meeting hosted by Cambodia, the EU also pledged to uphold democracy and the rule of law in the region.

“This is a strategy that aligns with the values ​​of the EU. One of the ways to implement it is to agree to invest in projects provided that certain human rights and labor standards are respected, ”Kliem said.

He added that several Asian countries depend on Chinese investments and that the EU’s interest in the region could offer these countries an alternative to financing from China.

“So in this way the EU can continue to make a difference in the region and counter China and other countries in a non-military way.

Edited by: Leah Carter

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