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The Europeans in the Indo-Pacific: Jointly or National, and What Does Asia Think?
19 Oct 2021
Fu Junwei

On 19 October 2021, RSIS held a panel webinar titled “The Europeans in the Indo-Pacific: Jointly or National, and What Does Asia Think?”. Assistant Professor Sarah Teo of RSIS facilitated the discussion with five panellists: Dr Frederick Kliem, Research Fellow at RSIS; Ms Alice Billon-Galland, Research Fellow at Chatham House; Dr Anisa Heritage, Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; Mr Gilang Kembara, Researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Indonesia, and Professor Gao Jian, Senior Researcher and Secretary General of the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies at the Shanghai International Studies University, China.

The panellists shared their perspectives on the interests and approaches of the EU, Germany, France and the UK in the Indo-Pacific. Given that the Indo-Pacific is an area with both huge economic opportunities and increasing tensions, the main interest of these extra-regional actors in the region is to maintain peace and stability for trade and economic growth to continue.

A secondary yet pressing concern are the increasing demands by the US for its closest allies to become more proactive in supporting Washington’s quest to maintain the status quo order vis-à-vis the perceived China challenge. It was noted that China did not regard the presence of Germany, France and the UK in the Indo-Pacific as a threat, given Beijing’s belief in a shared commitment towards stability and development.

AUKUS, the recently established defence cooperation agreement involving Australia, the UK and US, was also examined for its impact on regional dynamics. Panellists differed in their views on whether AUKUS would harm or benefit regional stability, although it was generally agreed that the emergence of the trilateral arrangement would not herald a significant change to the interests of EU member states and the UK.

Some panellists underscored the importance of European soft power, especially in terms of reinforcing norms and empowering multilateralism. It was emphasised that these should be the areas where the EU and its members should work together with ASEAN and countries in the region, including China, to promote cooperation and mutual benefits. From ASEAN’s perspective, it would also be important for the EU member states and the UK to demonstrate how they could contribute concretely towards improving the day-to-day lives of people in the ASEAN countries.

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