Economic Undertakings

Europe takes on China over the Indo-Pacific region

On June 11, I made my first trip overseas in two and a half years. I boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, then to my final destination, Prague. It was in this ancient and picturesque capital of the Czech Republic that the Prague high-level dialogue on the Indo-Pacific took place.

Organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in conjunction with selected institutions of the European Union (EU), this venture showcased the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy as it deepens its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region with partners sharing the same ideas.

The two-day conference represented a multilateral venue where the EU, other European and like-minded partners (i.e. USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), as well as Indo-Pacific partner institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) could discuss developments and current security issues in the Indo-Pacific region and identify areas of cooperation.

My brief discussion of how China’s global power and assertiveness has unraveled the regional security architecture caught the attention of many European participants. European diplomats, academics and business leaders are now oblivious to the EU’s earlier policy of “strategic autonomy” in the face of strategic competition between the US and China. This policy is based on the idea that Europe would not necessarily align itself with the United States because it should give full attention to its relations with China, especially in the field of trade, investment and development. infrastructures.

Under the Trump administration, the rapid deterioration of EU-US relations has forced many EU member states to move closer to China. In fact, the upheavals in EU-US relations have prompted some major European powers to place greater emphasis on Sino-European cooperation. Fortunately, the Biden administration has improved US economic and diplomatic relations with the EU, which has provided opportunities for further cooperation between the two parties in many areas.

EU policy change

The EU had been wary of the deeper, long-term implications of escalating competition between Washington and Beijing as it tried to remain neutral in asserting these major powers. Nevertheless, despite the EU’s public declaration that it would maintain its strategic autonomy in the face of the US-China confrontation, it could not suppress its view that China is Europe’s ‘systemic rival’. in the 21st century.

This idea of ​​a systemic rivalry with China stems from China’s rapid economic emergence which has led many EU Member States to become dependent on trade, investment, official development assistance and, more recently, infrastructure projects sponsored and funded by Beijing. The growing dependence of many EU member states on China and Beijing’s growing political and economic influence across the continent have set off alarm bells, first in Paris and then in La Hague, and finally in the heart of the EU, in Brussels.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the massive flow of Chinese economic aid to finance the sanctions-plagued Russian economy and Beijing’s refusal to condemn Moscow’s aggression against Kyiv have brought out the competitive elements latent in EU-China relations.

The EU reflected on the wider implications of the war in Ukraine in the Indo-Pacific region in terms of the cohesion and sustainability of the Sino-Russian alignment, its challenge to the global security order and the system international community based on the United Nations as a whole. Eventually, he accepted the idea that Russian military aggression against Ukraine and Moscow-Beijing military cooperation are systemic challenges to the rules-based international order, multilateralism and human rights, both in Europe than in the Indo-Pacific.

The EU has adopted the EU strategic compass and started the implementation of this strategy which includes a strong Indo-Pacific element. This element highlighted the need for the EU to continue to develop partnerships and enhance synergies with like-minded partners and relevant security and defense organisations, such as the North Atlantic Organization (NATO), the strategic partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia (AUKUS) and the QUAD. .

EU presence in the Indo-Pacific

In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in the face of a closer Beijing-Moscow strategic alignment, the EU no longer considers Indo-Pacific security issues such as the South China Sea conflict, the Taiwan Strait and China’s maritime expansion. only distant and abstract developments. For Brussels, the EU is currently in a unique position to shape an evolving and potentially perilous Indo-Pacific region.

The European reach relies on soft and hard power instruments and, more recently, the establishment of strategic networks at the institutional level to enhance the continent’s power projection capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region. In the past, the EU has assumed a negligible role in the political and security agenda of Indo-Pacific states. Recently, however, the EU has launched new initiatives and partnerships that allow it to contribute in new ways and in new areas in the Indo-Pacific.

In 2012, the EU signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with ASEAN, paving the way for greater European participation in ASEAN-led regional institutions. Japan, India and Australia have become central partners cooperating with the EU to provide platforms for member states to pursue initiatives creating a substantial independent European footprint in the areas of security and army in the Indo-Pacific.

The EU aims to strengthen cooperation with strategic regional partners such as ASEAN and to develop tailor-made bilateral partnerships with like-minded countries and strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific.

The new Marcos administration is currently fine-tuning its foreign policy in the face of an evolving Indo-Pacific security architecture. It is imperative that he mends the Philippines-EU relationship after a six-year hiatus under the outgoing Duterte administration.

Dr. Renato De Castro is Administrator and Head of the National Security and East Asian Affairs Program at the Stratbase ADR Institute think tank.