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Commentary: European Union’s Strategy in Indo- Pacific By Cmde. Vijesh Kumar Garg, VSM (Retd.)

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Article 14/2022

While the Russia-Ukraine crisis dominates the world’s attention, France hosted the Ministerial Forum for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific on 22Feb2022. The meeting was meant to highlight the European Union’s (EU) strategy for the Indo-Pacific and come up with feasible projects for the region. It saw the participation of foreign ministers of the EU member states, around 30 countries from the Indo-Pacific region – including India and the representatives of major European and Indo-Pacific regional institutions.

The French Ministry of External Affairs stated  that it was an opportunity to “strengthen the links between EU countries and those of the Indo-Pacific and our will, as of now, to strengthen them even further.” It added that this will be a cooperation model rooted in multilateralism, the rule of law, and affecting “the principles of sustainability, openness, and reciprocity.”

India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM), Dr S Jaishankar, was one of the keynote speakers for the event. In addressing the forum, Jaishankar cautioned about the importance of countering the hegemonic designs in the Indo-Pacific, or else the forces of disequilibrium will spread even to Europe. “Today, we see challenges on that score with the clarity that proximity brings. And believe me, distance is no insulation. The issues we confront in the Indo-Pacific will extend beyond, even to Europe,” he said. The external affairs minister welcomed both the EU and France’s commitment to the security of the Indo-Pacific as both have a strong partnership presence and interests in the region. “With its economic heft and expertise, the EU can also promote economic development, infrastructure, connectivity, digital transformation, climate change, biodiversity, and human-centric concerns like health, besides security. For these reasons, we welcome the EU’s Global Gateway,” Jaishankar said.

The plenary was followed by three roundtables focusing on connectivity and digital technology, global challenges (climate, biodiversity, oceans, health), and security and defence issues. The roundtable on connectivity and digital technology had a big emphasis in the European Commission’s Global Gateway strategy launched in December, a broader EU project aimed at augmenting “smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport… for sustainable and trusted connections that work for people and the planet, to tackle the most pressing global challenges, from climate change and protecting the environment, to improving health security and boosting competitiveness and global supply chains.”

Meanwhile, India’s EAM Dr. S Jaishankar also delivered a lecture on his last day in Paris at the French Institute of International Relations.  Interestingly, he was asked about the Russian attack on Ukraine and the China threat to Taiwan. He highlighted that the two issues could not be painted with the same brush as they are not similar issues. “Both are products of very complex histories of that particular region. In the case of Ukraine, a lot of it derives from post-Soviet politics, the expansion of NATO, the dynamics between Russia and Europe, and Russia and the West broadly. I think, in the case of Taiwan, it is a product of what happened in Chinese history and what happened the way the Cold War and other developments played out in Asia,” he said in answer to a question.

(Commodore Vijesh Kumar Garg, VSM is Executive Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. The views expressed are personal.)

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