EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific - Council conclusions (16 April 2021)

In “A Stronger Europe in the World”

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On 19 April 2021, the Council adopted conclusions on a EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, in order to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the region. It tasked the High Representative and the Commission with putting forward a Joint Communication on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021. On 16 September, the Commission and the HRVP published the announced Joint Communication 'The EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific' (JOIN(2021) 24 final). The Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) on 22 March 2022 adopted an own-initiative-report on the 'EU and the security challenges in the Indo-Pacific' which shall be voted in plenary mid-May.  The International Trade Committee (INTA) has decided to draft an own-initiative report on the 'Indo-Pacific strategy in the area of trade and investment'. It is expected to be voted mid-May in the Committee and to be submitted to the vote in plenary in early July. 

Background

The EU strategy has been preceded by strategies or guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region published between 2018 and 2020 by three Member states: France, Germany and the Netherlands.

In the EU strategy, the Indo-Pacific region encompasses the geographic area from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific Island States. It represents the world’s economic and strategic centre of gravity, as it is home to 60% of the world’s population producing 60% of global GDP, contributing two thirds of current global growth. 60% of world maritime trade passes through its oceans, including a third through the South China Sea.

The EU has a big stake in the region, and has every interest that the regional architecture remains open and rules-based. However  current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific - including China's increasing assertiveness in South and East China Sea, and North Korea nuclear weapons program - have given rise to intense geopolitical competition, adding to increasing pressure on trade and supply chains as well as in tensions in technological, political and security areas. The universality of human rights is also being challenged.

The Council Conclusions

The approach and engagement will be principled with a long-term perspective, with the aim of contributing to the stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development of the region, based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law. It should aim to secure free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law, in particular UNCLOS, in the interest of all.

This commitment to the region is inclusive of all partners wishing to cooperate with the EU. The strategy is deliberately pragmatic, flexible and multi-faceted, and the EU is to deepen its engagement on the Indo-Pacific in particular with those partners that have already announced Indo-Pacific approaches of their own. The EU reiterates its support for ASEAN centrality and looks forward to the ambitious realisation of its new EU-ASEAN Strategic Partnership, which was established in December 2020.

The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific will allow the EU to enhance cooperation in many areas including:

  • ocean governance
  • research and technology
  • connectivity
  • health
  • strengthen regional organisations
  • intensify cooperation in multilateral fora
  • reinforce work on tackling global challenges such as climate change

The Joint Communication

The Communication starts by outlining the EU’s rationale for strengthening its engagement in the Indo-Pacific, then elaborates on the EU’s principles guiding its engagement with the Indo-Pacific and sets out out the EU’s approach to partnership and cooperation in the region. It ends by detailing how the EU will pursue this vision in cooperation with partners.

The proposed actions cover a wide field, starting from resilient and sustainable global value chains, via the development of technological standards and regulation and the expansion of digital partnerships to the conclusion of new Digital Partnership Agreement, the implementation of the Connectivity Partnership with Japan and India and the mobilisation of funds to improve connectivity between Europe and the Indo Pacific. In the area of trade and economic relations, the FTA negotiations with Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand and the PCAs with Malaysia and Thailand are to be completed.

The Communication also envisages strengthened cooperation on research and innovation and the reinforcement of healthcare systems and pandemic preparedness for least developed countries. It also recommends to explore ways to ensure enhanced naval deployments by EU Member States to help protect the sea lines of communication and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific while boosting Indo-Pacific partners’ capacity to ensure maritime security.

Further developments after the adoption of the strategy

Germany's Bayern frigate, France's Mistral-class amphibious assault ship Tonnerre and a Netherland's frigate (the latter in the frame of a UK-led CSG21 - Carrier Strike Group) have scheduled deployments in the Indo-Pacific during 2021.

France took part in an allied naval exercise, dubbed the Jeanne D'Arc mission, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans with the US, Australia and Japan in May 2021.

References

Further reading:

Author: Ulrich Jochheim, Members' Research Service, legislative-train@europarl.europa.eu

As of 20/05/2022.
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