Avoiding pitfalls in the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy

Author: Shada Islam, College of Europe Implementing Europe’s strategy for a stronger ‘strategic focus, presence and action’ in the Indo-Pacific will be difficult. EU policymakers face the herculean task of identifying core areas where the bloc can make a difference in the region while avoiding those where EU engagement would do more harm than good. […] The post Avoiding pitfalls in the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Avoiding pitfalls in the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy

Author: Shada Islam, College of Europe

Implementing Europe’s strategy for a stronger ‘strategic focus, presence and action’ in the Indo-Pacific will be difficult. EU policymakers face the herculean task of identifying core areas where the bloc can make a difference in the region while avoiding those where EU engagement would do more harm than good.

Germany, France and the Netherlands already have their own national Indo-Pacific strategies. As does the United Kingdom, now outside the European Union. Policymakers in Brussels hope that a collective EU strategy can augment national ones, and help the bloc strengthen its profile in the Indo-Pacific amid changing global power balances. The European Union is not content to watch great power politics from the sidelines.

Fleshing out the details of a more wholistic EU strategy for the Indo-Pacific will be difficult. Reconciling conflicting interests and ensuring coordination among EU member states to implement it will be even more challenging. A key issue will be finding a balance between the EU’s interest in expanding its economic presence in the region and its desire to support global democracy and human rights. In the interest of both Europe and Asia, EU engagement must avoid certain strategic pitfalls.

First, although neither China nor the United States are mentioned explicitly in the EU document, rivalry between the two countries looms large over the bloc’s approach to the Indo-Pacific. The headline goals of the new EU strategy, agreed by ministers on 19 April, highlight the ‘intense geopolitical competition’ underway in the region between the United States and China.

The European Union needs to recognise that to make a difference in the Indo-Pacific, it must work to lower the temperature, not add to it. The European Union can do so by encouraging a broader, more inclusive and nuanced conversation in the region that is not dominated by hard security ideas. This means continuing to resist pressure to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or to emulate its hard security stance and implicit anti-China bias.

The European Union, with its significant market and regulatory power, should focus on trade and investments, climate change, sustainable development goals and building digital connectivity networks.

Second, with its existing network of trade and investment agreements, the European Union should engage with existing efforts at economic integration in the Asia Pacific. This would mean, for instance, joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed in November 2020 or exploring entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bloc should seriously reflect on negotiating an EU–ASEAN free trade agreement, however daunting it may appear.

Third, while US–China rivalry grabs headlines, it would be a mistake to simplify or neglect the region’s other complex realities. The EU’s hopes of promoting values will also have to take account of the rising nationalism and populism in the region, with democracies coming under threat.

Fourth, the European Union should resist the temptation to over-romanticise its friends and over-vilify its competitors. Building a special relationship with India following the recent EU–India virtual summit or the new strategic partnership signed with ASEAN does not mean being blind to their weaknesses in dealing with serious governance challenges. While the EU’s embrace of India makes geopolitical sense to European policymakers looking to counterbalance China’s influence, the new strategy must not make the mistake of neglecting the opportunity to deepen Europe’s engagement with other South Asian countries.

Fifth, the European Union should resist the pressure to fall in line with the US framing of China as an ‘existential threat’. EU attitudes towards China are hardening following recent tit-for-tat sanctions over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang which have endangered the ratification of the EU–⁠China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment signed last year.

Still, China is vitally important for the European Union’s economic recovery and global climate change mitigation ambitions. While Washington foresees an uneasy relationship with China shaped by either ‘cooperative rivalry’, ‘managed competition’ or ‘competitive co-existence’, the focus in Brussels remains on dealing with China as a partner, competitor and systemic rival. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have warned against forming a united front against Beijing.

Sixth, the European Union can contribute to ongoing regulatory work in the region. Its connectivity blueprint could be an important contribution to the Indo-Pacific by providing norms and standards for infrastructure and digital projects. Brussels and Tokyo, which is pushing the idea of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, have already signed a connectivity partnership which they hope will provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. A similar connectivity agreement was reached with India. If well implemented, the bloc could use its considerable regulatory power — the so-called Brussels effect — to provide a blueprint for cooperative, sustainable ‘Blue Economy’ endeavours in the Indo-Pacific.

Competition for influence in the region is likely to get tougher. The US–China rivalry is intensifying, the United Kingdom is showing off its naval power and France is reasserting its status as a resident Indo-Pacific power. To stand out, the European Union must play to its strength as an economic power, not get caught up in unending US–China competition.

Shada Islam is Visiting Professor at the College of Europe, Natolin, and a Solvay Fellow at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

The post Avoiding pitfalls in the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy first appeared on East Asia Forum.
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Myanmar Junta Drops Terrorism Charges and Releases 10 Ethnic Rakhine Figures

The released detainees include siblings of Arakan Army (AA) Commander-in-Chief Maj. Gen. Tun Myat Naing.

Myanmar Junta Drops Terrorism Charges and Releases 10 Ethnic Rakhine Figures

Myanmar’s junta has dropped terrorism charges against 10 ethnic Rakhines, including relatives of the top commander of the rebel Arakan Army, setting them free after nearly two years in custody awaiting trial, a lawyer representing them told RFA.

The move to free the detainees, including siblings of Arakan Army (AA) Commander-in-Chief Maj. Gen. Tun Myat Naing, follows the removal of the ethnic fighting force in western Myanmar from a state terror designation list on March. 11.

A conflict that erupted in late 2018 between Myanmar’s military and the AA killed 300 civilians, injured more than 700 others, and, at its peak, displaced roughly 230,000 people to makeshift refugee camps. A ceasefire agreed between the AA and military for the November 2020 elections remains intact.

Eight of the Rakhine activists -- including Aung Myat Kyaw, a brother of AA chief Tun Myat Naing -- were arrested by Singapore police in July 2019 and deported to Myanmar and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law. Separately, Tun Myat Naing's sister and brother-in-law were arrested at Yangon International Airport in October 2019 and charged under the same law.

“They had been on trial for almost two years and were acquitted by the Yangon Western District Court today. All 10 were released in good health,” Aung Kyaw Sein, a lawyer representing the group, told RFA’s Myanmar Service Tuesday.

Others suspected of links with AA rebels and charged under anti-terrorism laws in Rakhine State were later dropped and released, the attorney said without elaborating.

The junta spokesman was not available for comment.

Later on Tuesday they received a raucous welcome in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe from dozens of supporters, local news outlet Western News showed in a livestream video of a gesture by the AA that the military had not previously tolerated.

On top of enduring widespread atrocities committed by government troops, the citizens in the northern half of Rakhine were disenfranchised in the November 2020 elections after Myanmar election authorities cancelled voting due to security concerns, and then ruled out a make-up vote.

Before the AA-national military hostilities flared up, northern Rakhine erupted in brutal communal violence pitting Rakhines against Rohingya, culminating in a scorched-earth military crackdown that killed thousands of the ethnic Muslims and drove more than 740,000 others into neighboring Bangladesh in 2017.

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Ming Htun. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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