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The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

NOTES FROM THE EU DELEGATION - Luc Véron (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2021 - 12:00am

The Indo-Pacific – spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific Island states – is a region where the EU has a comprehensive network of relationships and partners. The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, agreed by the 27 EU member-states in April, is an addition to the ones of France, Germany and the Netherlands and a proof of European commitment to the Indo-Pacific Region and, in particular, Southeast Asia.

Why does the EU need a strategy dedicated to the region? It is pretty simple: The Indo-Pacific accounts for 60 percent of global GDP and two-thirds of global growth. It is the second largest destination for EU exports and home to four out of the EU’s top 10 trading partners. It is home to three of the four largest economies outside the EU (China, India and Japan). The region is also at the forefront of the digital economy and technological development and is central to global value chains, international trade and investment flows.

This Strategy recommits the EU politically to the region with the goal of contributing to its stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law.

I want to underline that our strategy, as reflected in its title, is one of cooperation and not confrontation. The basic tenet of the strategy is that the EU will work with its partners in the Indo-Pacific to respond to the dynamics that are affecting regional stability.

Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is crucial to implementing the global agenda. Over the years, the EU has consistently made significant contributions to the region in areas such as: development cooperation and humanitarian assistance; tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, partnership and free trade agreements, disaster risk reduction, upholding international law, including human rights and freedom of navigation.

The EU pursues to boost trade and investment, economic openness and a sustainable approach to connectivity with the region. After all, the stability of the region is important not just to the EU but to the world. However, the region is challenged by continuing tensions. Sixty percent of maritime trade passes through its oceans, including a third through the South China Sea. Its passages need to remain free and open.

In April this year, at the height of the reported presence of large Chinese vessels at the Whitsun (Julian Felipe) Reef, the EU’s spokesperson reiterated the “EU’s commitment to secure free, and open maritime supply routes in the Indo-Pacific in full compliance with international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in the interest of all.” The EU, in this instance, reiterated “its strong opposition to any unilateral actions that could undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order.”

As the DNA of the EU is peace and cooperation, we urge all parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with international law such as the UNCLOS, including its dispute settlement mechanisms. The EU also supports the ASEAN-led process towards an effective, substantive and legally binding Code of Conduct, which should not prejudice the interests of third parties.

EU-ASEAN relations

A major cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific Strategy are the EU-ASEAN relations.

Last year, EU-ASEAN relations were upgraded to a Strategic Partnership. The recent visit of EU High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell to Jakarta contributed to reaffirm and to reinvigorate this partnership, with the EU reiterating its readiness to collaborate with the region particularly in the areas of green transition, defence and sustainable connectivity.

The EU is the ASEAN’s number one development partner and its third trade partner and investor. EU exports to ASEAN countries grew from 54 billion euros in 2010 to 85 billion euros in 2019 and imports increased from 72 billion euros to 125 billion euros.

A recent milestone in the relationship is the conclusion of the negotiations on the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement. This marks the world’s first bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement, which will bolster connectivity and economic development among the 37 member-states of ASEAN and the EU.

Starting next August, the Philippines will hold a key role as ASEAN coordinator for Dialogue Relations with the EU. This is another important step in the EU-ASEAN and in the bilateral relationships. Mr. Borrell is planning to meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin virtually very soon.

In conclusion, I want to stress that despite the fact the EU is far away from the region, we are determined to be a political and security actor in the region, not just as a development cooperation, trading or investment partner.

To this end, we will work hand in hand with ASEAN and the Philippines.

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Luc Véron is Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines.

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