After Australia arms deal flop, EU to launch Indo-Pacific plan

EU wants to use the plan to show Beijing that it is against the spread of authoritarianism.
EU wants to use the plan to show Beijing that it is against the spread of authoritarianism.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - The European Union will set out a formal strategy on Thursday (Sept 16) to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific and counter China's rising power, although Australia's decision to cancel an arms contract with France may complicate cooperation.

Led by France, Germany and the Netherlands, which first set out ways to deepen ties with countries such as India, Japan and Australia, the 27-member bloc wants to use the plan to show Beijing that it is against the spread of authoritarianism.

However, Wednesday's agreement between the United States, Australia and Britain to establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific and scrap a US$40 billion (S$53.8 billion) French-designed submarine deal has damaged trust between allies, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc had not been informed about the security partnership and was trying to find out more.

"We will have to discuss with member states to assess the implications," Mr Peter Stano told a regular news briefing.

Following an initial plan in April, the EU will set out in detail how it plans to deepen ties with its allies in environmental, trade and digital policies, as well as seeking to develop a maritime presence to keep trade lanes open.

Diplomats said the plan was not "anti-China", although envoys in Brussels acknowledge that Beijing is likely to see it that way as tensions over contested territories and maritime zones, as well as concerns about China's military build-up, grow.

"The display of force and increasing tensions in regional hot spots such as in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait may have a direct impact on European security and prosperity," according to an earlier, draft version of the plan.

The plan may mean a higher EU diplomatic profile on Indo-Pacific issues, more EU personnel and investment in the region and a security presence such as dispatching ships through the South China Sea, or putting Europeans on Australian patrols.

Separately, the European Parliament on Thursday voted 570 in favour, 61 against, with 40 abstentions, to press EU governments for a mixed strategy towards Beijing, combining cooperation on trade and health while fighting Chinese human rights abuses.