Wednesday, May 11, 2022, 06:44 (GMT+7)
EU's new approach to the Asia-Pacific region

Not to be missed out in the race in the Asia-Pacific region, the European Union (EU) has launched many approaches, most recently the “Global Gateway” strategy, to increase its influence, position and prestige in this region. Therefore, it is a matter of great concern to the international public that what this strategy contains, and how it is employed.

Asia - Pacific - a hot region on the strategic “chessboard”

Entering the 21st century, the world situation has changed rapidly and unpredictably. There has a trend of shifting economic development to Asia, shifting “power” from West to East, leading to a change in the balance of power between major countries. In the Asia-Pacific region, the strategic competition among major countries to increase their influence, position and prestige is increasingly intense, leading countries to change their strategies to ensure their interests in this important area. Several regional organisations and countries, especially major ones, have adjusted their foreign policies in the direction of increasing and expanding their cooperation in order to realise their national interests and create their own advantageous position in the evolving regional landscape. Countries’ methods of gathering forces and building partnerships are also very diverse and flexible, for each field, issue and time in international relations. For the United States, Washington shifted its focus from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific 11 years ago under the “rebalancing” strategy through strengthening economic partnerships with Asian countries and expanding its military presence in the region. In the past two years, the US leaders have continued to devise the strategy of “free and open Indo-Pacific”, establishing “The Quad” – (the US, Australia, Japan, India), and AUKUS military alliance (Australia - UK - USA). In particular, during his visit to the Pacific in February 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reaffirmed to the world that Washington's long-term strategic focus remains on the region from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, to South Asia and Oceania, including the Pacific island nations.

As for China, the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) is seen as part of a global strategy in the 21st century, with three main pillars: (1) establishing the “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) on land to form a bridge between Asia and Europe, and develop an economic corridor between China and Mongolia, Russia, Central Asia and Southeast Asia; (2) building the “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) to connect China with South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean via the Indian Ocean; (3) forming the project “Digital Silk Road” towards building an “information superhighway” to connect this country with Europe and Africa. Although not frequently mentioned, BRI also contains space policy - an area of strategic importance in international competition. Therefore, China has always considered the development of space capabilities as the focus of its development.

India's Asia-Pacific policy, known as “Look East”, includes many activities related to the economic and security sectors in this important region. In recent years, New Delhi has established a series of trade agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan and a number of other countries in the region. In fact, India's “Look East” policy at its inception mainly focused on the economic sector. However, strong moves by major powers, especially the US, in the Asia-Pacific region, have urged India to make adjustments to its “Look East” policy, focusing on promoting defence and security cooperation with ASEAN countries, especially activities to ensure security at sea, defence dialogue, training and building combat capacity for naval forces, increasing influence with countries in the region.

Russia - a country that once claimed to be an inseparable member of the Asia-Pacific region, is not a bystander in this hot race. Accordingly, Moscow has longbeen interested in the long-term cooperative relationships and alliances with countries in the region; in participating in integration in many fields and in all different mechanisms, notably the use of the region’s potential to promote the development of Siberia and the Far East; and in maintaining security cooperation with China and India. As a leading supplier of energy and raw materials, with its military technical cooperation and a voice in ensuring regional security, Russia will not support the idea of forming a new organisation without a worthy role for Russia.

From the “Soft power” engagement policy to the “Global Gateway” strategy

Ten years ago, the EU considered the Asia-Pacific as a region with many strategic interests. Therefore, this Union offers a policy of “soft power” engagement to compete for influence with major powers through diplomatic, commercial and economic activities in the region. However, the public debt crisis, the migration issue and the Brexit have greatly affected the EU's image and reputation in the Asia-Pacific as well as in other regions of the world.

Recently, in the face of the increasingly intense competition of major powers in the Asia-Pacific region, the EU has taken a new approach to this region through the “Global Gateway” strategy. The strategy is a set of plans with the goal of promoting economic and foreign policy development; at the same time, ensuring the interests, security as well as values of Europe in the region. Unlike the US strategy, the EU's is built on the foundation of the 2018 EU-Asia Connectivity strategy, with the principle that connectivity must be sustainable, comprehensive and based on international rules, maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific. This, in turn, contributes to diversifying the value chain, affirming the importance of Europe in terms of politics, military and economy, as well as enhancing the competitiveness between the EU and major countries.

Before the official announcement of “Global Gateway” strategy, the EU's direction towards the Asia-Pacific in a new way was conjectured through many military moves of this Union. In February 2021, the French Ministry of Defencce confirmed that it had sent a submarine through the South China Sea, following two French warships participating in joint exercises with allies in the waters of Japan. At the end of December 2021, the German Navy frigate Bayern arrived in Singapore, which was the last stop on a six-month journey and the first trip to East Asia in two decades. In addition, France also makes this area a foreign policy target during the its EU Presidency.

Beside military activities, the “Global Gateway” also aims to connect international infrastructure from now to 2027, focusing on digital transformation, clean energy transformation, transportation, people-to-people connecting, commerce and flexible supply chains, etc. with an amount of up to 325 billion USD, of which more than 20 billion are granted under EU external support programs; 153 billion USD from the European Fund for Sustainable Development; $164 billion from advanced financial organisations and European financial institutions, such as the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. All are aimed at bringing together state members and financial institutions to strengthen links with international partners, promoting sustainable investment connectivity.

In particular, the recent Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum event in Paris (February 2022) further affirmed the EU's determination to quickly access this vital area. The forum attracted more than 60 diplomatic officials from EU member states, ASEAN, East Asian countries, South Asia as well as some South Pacific island countries. The main content of the Forum revolves around 07 areas: sustainable and comprehensive development; ecological transformation; governance of the oceans; building digital partners; enhanced connectivity; security, national defence and humanitarian security.

By combining both security and economy, the “Global Gateway” shows that the  prospects for expanding EU's influence in the Asia-Pacific are increasingly present, and at the same time reaffirms the vision and position of a strong alliance which is capable of building more resilient networks based on Europe’s core principles.

ASEAN at the centre of the Strategy?

Similar to many other strategies, the “Global Gateway” strategy focuses on deepening relations with “like-minded” partners in the Asia-Pacific region based on current commitments and initiatives, so ASEAN is considered the key partner of this Strategy.

According to many international analysts, in order to effectively increase its influence in the region, the EU needs to consider ASEAN as the focus of its cooperation policy, because ASEAN is at a “golden moment” for development. Along with that, ASEAN is located in the central position connecting the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. This region is home to about 630 million people, and is the world's fifth largest economy with a gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly 3 trillion USD (according to various forecasts, ASEAN will become the world's fourth largest economy by 2050). In addition, this area is also home to vital sea routes. Realising the great benefits in politics, economy, defence and security, the major powers have been stepping up activities to strengthen their position and prestige, meanwhile seeking to prevent and limit their competitors’ influence in the region.

Therefore, instead of seeing the relationship with ASEAN as the sponsor-recipient relation, the EU should consider ASEAN as an equal partner - an important balance of power, to ensure global and regional peace, prosperity, security and safety.

Moreover, the EU also needs to promote cooperation with ASEAN countries, in the direction of diversification in all fields, and support for security mechanisms and structures led by ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); ASEAN Summit with partners (ASEAN+); ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) and ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+); ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), etc. These mechanisms are regularly expanded and enhanced in terms of scale, level and nature, creating a space for open dialogues and building strategic trust in the Indo-Pacific region in recent times.

The EU's pivot to the Asia-Pacific with a specific strategy is inevitable as the region plays an increasingly important role in the global strategic calculations of major countries. However, the presence of the EU in this area makes the intense strategic competition among big countries even stronger; in which, military and defence competition is forecasted to be very complicated, having a significant impact on global and regional security.


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