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EU Approach to Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific: from Strategy to Practice

Phase 3: The EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy in a New Context

Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda. Over the years, the EU has consistently made significant contributions in the region in terms of development cooperation. The EU Council Conclusions on an EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific launched in April 2021 affirms that the EU should reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific 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. In that context, a 3-phase-research on “the EU Approach to Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific: from Strategy to Practice” has been conducted by USSH Hanoi with sponsorship from KAS Vietnam. Its aim is to learn about the European Union’s approach to cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and impacts on regional countries.

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In the first phase of the project, up to the end of 2021, we looked at the respective Indo-Pacific strategies of individual European countries and the European Union as a whole and asked about their respective objectives. It became apparent that the EU strategy in particular was trying to create a new foundation in international politics, since it was the first time that the EU had attempted to give itself a truly independent foreign policy profile in a central geopolitical area: against the particularistic interests of its member states and especially against the polarisation between the USA and the People's Republic of China. However, it also became apparent that all the European states that had presented corresponding strategies by the end of 2021, i.e. Germany, France and the Netherlands, by no means only remained on the familiar tracks of their foreign policy, but also strived to create something new.

EU's and its Members' Cooperation Strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region - Perception of important Actors

In the second phase of the project, until the end of 2022, we then looked for the reactions that the European initiative has triggered in important countries bordering the Indo-Pacific, or how distinguished researchers assess this initiative in particular. To this end, we also submitted a detailed project report, parts of which have been published online by KAS. The resulting articles look at the EU's Indo-Pacific Initiative from the perspective of the USA, Japan, South Korea, China, India, ASEAN, Indonesia, Thailand, and Australia. We were thus able to identify four main responses of these experts to the EU-Indo-Pacific initiative, which, moreover, have also been influenced by new developments, especially the Ukraine crisis, in the course of 2022:

-              The respective highlighting of the enormous uncertainties about the further development of the international system.

-              A strong resistance to becoming part of one side of the new global polarisation between the US and China.

-              An inherent consensus that the re-intensification of the European-American Alliance and its expansion to the Indo-Pacific region is likely to increase tensions with the other side, i.e. China and its allies. Many “Indo-Pacific” countries have no interest in this either.

-              If the international situation does not escalate dramatically in the course of the next few months, the broad consensus among our authors is that this unwillingness to be drawn into the Ukraine conflict will not change significantly.

It can be concluded from these results that the context for the European Indo-Pacific Initiative has changed primarily for the initiators, i.e. the EU or individual European countries, but not for the addressees in the very region, i.e. the states of the Indo-Pacific area themselves.

In phase 3, all authors continue to have somehow positive view of the EU Initiative.

  • However, there are different opinions about the future development:
  • Will the EU rather intensify its engagement in the Indo-Pacific or in sub-regions (Indian Ocean, ASEAN) because of their overriding importance? Or: Will the EU focus more on addressing the challenges in its immediate neighbourhood (Russia, Middle East, Africa) due to a lack of resources?
  • Will the EU continue its characteristic combination of foreign economic policy with value-driven foreign policy approaches? Or: Will the EU’s foreign policy, or that of its member states, be conceived more realistically in the future

The full research of phase 3 can be downloaded here.

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