Europe’s involvement in Indo-Pacific security : a real role or still (pretty) much ado about nothing?

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Series Details Volume 2021/09, 09
Publication Date 2021
ISSN 1830-1541


This paper critically examines the quality, impact and shortcomings of EU and European Indo-Pacific policy papers and strategies. While some European countries and the EU in Brussels have issued ambitious Indo-Pacific policies aimed at making substantive and sustainable contributions to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, it remains yet to be seen whether the reality of actual European contributions to security in the region will be able to catch up with the political rhetorical declarations in such contributions any time soon (or indeed ever). Leaving aside whether European Indo-Pacific policy papers will stand for the ‘big bang’ of a European role in and impact on security in the Indo-Pacific, there is no doubt that recent European and EU Indo-Pacific policy papers have above all been written and published ‘because of China’ and its aggressive policies related to territorial claims in the East and South China Seas. Certainly, EU and European interests in formulating and adopting Indo-Pacific security policies are also – to put it bluntly – the result of four years under the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump. Trump’s often changing and (often) very erratic trade and security policies towards China from 2016 to 2020, together with his habit of treating European allies like adversaries, have undoubtedly contributed to the European decision to formulate and adopt its own independent Indo-Pacific policies. Donald Trump is gone, but when the EU had an opportunity to consult with the incoming U.S. administration led by President Joe Biden in December 2020 on respective policies towards the Indo-Pacific in general and China in particular, it chose not to. At the time, the EU Commission committed itself to adopting a comprehensive trade and investment agreement with China, ignoring U.S. reservations and instead insisting on demonstrating what in Brussels is referred to as ‘strategic autonomy.’ However, whether the European and EU Indo-Pacific policies will sustainably contribute to EU ‘strategic autonomy’ in the Indo-Pacific (and elsewhere) remains yet to be seen.

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