The EU is poised to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific after the European Council adopted a strategy on Monday to reinforce its focus and actions in the region.
The new European Union strategy comes amid rising geopolitical tensions and is widely seen as Brussels heeding Washington’s call for allies to increase engagement in the region to counter China under its “free and open Indo-Pacific” policy.
A broad range of areas are covered in the 10-page strategy document, including trade and investment, climate change, and free and open maritime supply routes that comply with international law.
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The EU will also continue to develop partnerships in security and defence, including to address maritime security, disinformation, terrorism and organised crime, according to a statement which did not specifically mention China or concerns that have been raised over its aggressive maritime actions in the region.
The bloc will also cooperate with regional partners to mitigate the economic and human effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and work towards ensuring an inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic recovery, it said.
Thomas Gnocchi, head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau, said the overall aim of the strategy was to increase Europe’s strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific, “because we have strong stakes in the region”.
“The Indo-Pacific region is a very wide area. It’s important in terms of economic growth – two-thirds of the economic growth in the world is happening in this area and three out of the four largest economies are in this area,” he said.
“Regarding climate change, over half of the carbon dioxide emissions are coming from this area, and that’s why it’s very important to engage on different fronts with the Indo-Pacific.”
Gnocchi also said the EU would take a pragmatic approach when working with nations in the region.
“With some countries, we are more advanced on environmental cooperation, and then we will bring that agenda forward,” he said. “With others we may have another topic, say, security.”
Gnocchi said the EU would cooperate with China on certain issues, giving climate change as a prime example.
The strategy document also says the bloc wants to sign an investment treaty – the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment – with China that both sides agreed to in principle in December.
But Gnocchi noted that human rights was a hurdle between the two sides, since “it’s fairly clear that on human rights, we don’t have a common vision on how to see this issue”.
The EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy comes after Brussels imposed sanctions on Chinese officials last month over alleged human rights abuses against ethnic Uygurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region – part of coordinated measures with the US, Britain and Canada – and Beijing hit back with its own EU blacklist.
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