File photo: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. (REUTERS)
File photo: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. (REUTERS)

‘Long-term focus’: European Union unveils strategy for cooperation in Indo-Pacific

The development comes against the backdrop of concerns among EU members about the aggressive and assertive actions of China across the Indo-Pacific.
PUBLISHED ON APR 19, 2021 11:14 PM IST

The European Union on Monday unveiled a strategy to reinforce its presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific, including cooperation with regional partners for maritime security and deepening of economic ties with India.

The move follows the adoption of Indo-Pacific strategies by key EU members such as France, Germany and the Netherlands. All these policies envisage closer security and economic cooperation with India, which is seen as a key player in the region.

“The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions in the region,” the European Council, which sets the EU’s policy agenda, said in a statement on the Indo-Pacific strategy.

“The renewed EU commitment to the Indo-Pacific, a region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island states, will have a long-term focus and will be based on upholding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law,” it said.

The development also comes against the backdrop of concerns among EU members about the aggressive and assertive actions of China across the Indo-Pacific. However, the EU has opted to strike a fine line between cooperating with China on issues such as trade and investment and climate change and challenging its actions that go against a rules-based order.

The EU will develop partnerships in security and defence, including addressing maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, emerging technologies, terrorism, and organised crime, the statement said.

The strategy, adopted during a meeting of the European Council on April 16, said the EU will “continue to explore deepening economic relations with India”. This will be part of efforts to strengthen the EU’s strategic trade position in the Indo-Pacific following significant regional agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Without naming China, the European Council also said the current dynamics in the Indo-Pacific “have given rise to the intense geopolitical competition adding to increasing tensions on trade and supply chains as well as in technological, political and security areas”. Human rights are also being challenged, and these developments “increasingly threaten the stability and security of the region and beyond, directly impacting on the EU’s interests,” it said.

The EU’s approach will foster a rules-based international order, a level playing field and an open and fair environment for trade and investment, the strengthening of resilience, and supporting connectivity with the EU.

“Free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law remain crucial. The EU will look to work together with its partners in the Indo-Pacific on these issues of common interest,” the European Council said.

The EU and its regional partners will also work together to mitigate the economic and human effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure an inclusive and sustainable socio-economic recovery.

In the realm of security and defence, the EU will protect critical maritime routes through capacity building for partners to improve their maritime domain awareness, and organise more joint exercises and port calls between Indo-Pacific naval units and the EU counter-piracy Naval Force Operation Atalanta.

The EU will also strengthen cooperation with partners on counter-terrorism, cyber-security, maritime security and crisis management, and a “meaningful European naval presence in the Indo-Pacific” is seen as important for the future.

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