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EU’s role in Indo-Pacific

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    23rd Nov, 2021

Context

Recently, the European Union (EU) released the ‘EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,’ a document outlining a cooperation plan with the Indo-Pacific. The strategy defines the region as extending from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific Island States. 

Moreover with the speedy development of the Quad comprising Australia, Japan, India, and the U.S. and the emergence of AUKUS comprising Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. including other alignments raise the question: where does Europe stand about this churning?

Background

  • The economic, demographic, and political weight of the Indo-Pacific region is expanding, from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states.
  • The world's centre of gravity is moving towards the Indo-Pacific, both in geo-economic and geo-political terms. The futures of the EU and the Indo-Pacific are interlinked.
  • The EU and the Indo-Pacific are highly interconnected, with many shared interests and solid ties, from trade and investments to research and innovation, as well as sustainable development, climate change, biodiversity protection, and security.

Analysis

Why is the need for EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific?

  • The Indo-Pacific region is increasingly becoming strategically important for the EU.
  • The region's growing economic, demographic, and political weight makes it a key player in shaping the international order and in addressing global challenges.
  • The EU is already the top investor, the leading development cooperation partner, and one of the biggest trading partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Together, the Indo-Pacific and Europe hold over 70% of the global trade in goods and services, as well as over 60% of foreign direct investment flows.
  • However, current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political, and security areas.

These are the reasons why the EU has decided to step up its strategic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.

What are the main elements of the EU's Indo-Pacific Strategy?

The basic message is that the EU will deepen its engagement with partners in the Indo-Pacific to respond to emerging dynamics that are affecting regional stability. The EU's approach is designed to foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field, as well as an open and fair environment for trade and investment, tackling climate change, and supporting connectivity with the EU.

In this context, there are seven priority areas for EU action:

  • Sustainable and inclusive prosperity
  • Green transition
  • Ocean governance
  • Digital governance and partnerships
  • Connectivity
  • Security and defense
  • Human security

What actions will the EU take in the area of security and defense?

  • Regional security: The EU will promote open and rules-based regional security architecture, including secure sea lines of communication, capacity-building, and enhanced naval presence by the EU Member States in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Protection of freedom of navigation: Furthermore, the EU will seek to conduct more joint exercises and port calls with Indo-Pacific partners, including multilateral exercises, to fight piracy and protect freedom of navigation in the region.
  • Effective collaboration with partners: The EU will intensify its dialogues with partners on security and defense, including counter-terrorism and cybersecurity.
    • The EU will also support Indo-Pacific partners' capacity to ensure maritime security.
    • It will also strengthen capacity-building for partners to tackle cybercrime.

Is the EU Indo-Pacific strategy directed against China?

  • EU claims that its approach to the region is one of cooperation, not confrontation.
  • The renewed commitment to the region is inclusive of all partners wishing to cooperate with the EU.
  • It will adapt this for cooperation according to specific areas where partner countries share principles, values, or mutual interests.
  • The EU will also pursue its multifaceted engagement with China, engaging bilaterally to promote solutions to common challenges, cooperating on issues of common interest, and encouraging China to play its part in a peaceful and thriving Indo-Pacific region.

Will human rights be part of the EU's Indo-Pacific Strategy?

  • The EU will remain a consistent defender of human rights and democracy and continue to use all tools at its disposal: political and human rights dialogues and consultations, trade preferences, and the mainstreaming of human rights considerations in all EU policies and programs.
  • It will continue to use its restrictive measures (sanctions) regime against individuals, entities, and bodies responsible for, involved in, or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.

Immediate course of action for EU

The implementation of the EU strategy will include several actions, in particular:

  • Concluding Partnership and Cooperation Agreements(PCA) with Malaysia and Thailand; starting PCA negotiations with the Maldives, and bringing the EU's upcoming Partnership Agreement with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) to full fruition.
  • Engaging with Indo-Pacific partners to build more resilient and sustainable global value chainsby diversifying trade and economic relations, and by developing technical standards and regulations that are in line with shared values and principles.
  • Completing EU trade negotiationswith Australia, Indonesia, and New Zealand and resuming trade negotiations, and starting investment negotiations with India including completing an Economic Partnership Agreement with the East Africa Community.
  • Concluding Green Alliances and Partnerships with willing and ambitious Indo-Pacific partners to fight against climate change and environmental degradation.
  • Strengthening ocean governancein the region, including increasing the EU's support for Indo-Pacific countries' fisheries management and control systems, the fight against Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the implementation of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements.
  • Expanding the network of digital partnershipswith Indo-Pacific partners, as well as exploring the possibility of new Digital Partnership Agreements.
  • Strengthen cooperation on research and innovationunder ‘Horizon Europe' and explore the association to this program of eligible like-minded Indo-Pacific partners such as Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and Singapore.
  • Stepping up implementation of the Connectivity Partnershipswith Japan and India and supporting partners in establishing an appropriate regulatory environment and facilitating the mobilization of the necessary funding to improve connectivity on the ground between Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
  • Exploring ways to ensure enhanced naval deploymentsby the EU Member States to help protect the sea lanes of communication and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific while boosting Indo-Pacific partners' capacity to ensure maritime security.
  • Reinforcing support to healthcaresystems and pandemic preparedness for the least-developed countries in the Indo-Pacific region, enhancing collaborative research on communicable diseases in the context of the Horizon Europe research.

Way forward for EU

  • Support France:The EU’s security and defense capabilities are quite limited, as compared to the U.S. and China. To obviate an imbalance in favor of economic links, the EU will need to give adequate space and support to France which has sizeable assets and linkages with the Indo-Pacific.
  • Coordination with the UK:EU also must forge strategic coordination with the U.K. as the latter prepares to expand its role in Asia as part of its ‘Global Britain’ strategy.
  • Leverage economic power:As a major economic power, the EU has an excellent chance of success in its trade negotiations with Australia, Indonesia, and New Zealand and economic partnership agreement with the East African Community; and in forging fisheries agreements and green alliances.
  • Enhanced relations with partners: To achieve all this and more, the EU must increase its readiness to share its financial resources and new technologies with partners.
  • Internally coordinated approach: Many states view China as a great economic opportunity, but others are acutely conscious of the full contours of the China challenge.
  • Focus on regional groupings (Quad, AUKUS): Russia next door is the more traditional threat. It is increasingly on China’s side. Hence, the EU should find it easy to cooperate with the Quad. AUKUS, endeavors by a part of the western alliance to bolster naval and technological facilities to deal with China should be welcome.

Way forward for India

  • Close partnership: India’s pivotal position in the region necessitates a closer India-EU partnership.
  • Trade agreements: Early conclusion of an ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement and a standalone investment protection agreement will be major steps.
  • Effective cooperation: Cooperation in Industry 4.0 technologies is desirable.
  • Upgrading ties: Consolidating and upgrading defense ties with France, Germany, and the U.K. should also remain a significant priority.

Conclusion

The European Union can create a vantage position for itself in the Indo-Pacific by being more candid with itself, more assertive with China, and more cooperative with India.

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