The world’s economic, political, and military center of gravity has begun to shift from an Atlantic-centered framework to an Indo-Pacific-centered system at the beginning of the 20th century. The Indo-Pacific area is a unique region in which Asia’s countries with dynamic populations and cheap labor markets, particularly China, trade with Europe and the United States, the world’s two largest consumer markets, and is also at the core of the “New Great Game” strategies. This strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific geography created a natural call to regional and non-regional actors and accelerated the orientation of countries to the Indo-Pacific region. As a result of the aforementioned trends and the announced strategies, the European Union (EU) has also started to show interest in the region.
Following the publication of the Council Declaration on the “Council Conclusions on an EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” by the General Secretariat of the European Council on 16 April 2021, the EU announced on 16 September 2021 the long-awaited Indo-Pacific Strategy Document titled “The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.”
Without a doubt, the official strategy statement of a union, such as the EU, which includes countries with diverse interests and engagements, on the geography in question, where the great power struggle is intense, is significant in terms of providing a clue as to which side it will take in this conflict. The publication of Indo-Pacific strategy documents by the countries in a strong position in the EU such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, and the 300 billion Euros “Global Gateway Project” developed by the EU as an alternative to the Belt-Road Project contributed to this step of the union.
In the 17-page strategy document, Southeast Asian Nations Association (ASEAN) Centrality, supply chain, trade agreements, green transformation and maritime security issues come to the fore. Besides the topics highlighted by the EU, perhaps the most curious issue was how the union would position China. Beijing, which is a key pillar of the Belt-Road Project initiated by China in 2013, has different meanings for Europe.
On the one hand, many European countries are economically dependent on China in terms of import-export-investment; On the other hand, the conflict of China’s values and ideology with those of Europe is one of the most challenging issues for decision makers. From this perspective, the EU’s strategy creates the impression that a balance is maintained.
EU; While criticizing Beijing on fundamental issues such as human rights and stating that will continue to protect and support these values against China, EU said that will continue its multi-faceted engagement by cooperating on common problems and common interests. The EU’s emphasis, which includes security concerns in the report, indicates criticism of China.
“In recent years, geopolitical dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have given rise to intense competition, including tensions around contested territories and maritime zones. There has been a significant military build-up, including by China, with the Indo-Pacific’s share of global military spending increasing from 20% of the world total in 2009 to 28% in 2019. The display of force and increasing tensions in regional hotspots such as in the South and East China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait may have a direct impact on European security and prosperity. There is also an increase in hybrid threats, including on cyber security.”
There is no doubt that economic relations with the region are vital for the EU. Due to the global economic damage caused by the Covid-19 epidemic, the EU’s development of a strategy without intensely entering the global power competition and without categorizing the economic dynamics shaped around China as revisionist is seen as the most inclusive move in terms of its internal and external dynamics. Because, Europe’s economy is deeply connected with Indo-Pacific trade in terms of investment, and supply networks. In 2018, EU-Asian goods trade totaled 1.5 trillion euros ($1.8 trillion), while foreign direct investment between the two countries exceeding 90 billion euros ($107 billion). More than a third of all European exports flow to the area, with the most passing through the Indian and Pacific Oceans’ maritime routes. The EU intends to establish new trade agreements in addition to current economic partnerships. In fact, the agreement signed between ASEAN and the EU, which would elevate the two organizations’ relations to the level of “strategic partnership,” is one of the most significant moves made in this direction.
Although the EU’s current view of the Indo-Pacific geography represents an economy-based approach, there is no guarantee that it will follow the same strategy in the future. Because, as tensions between the United States and China rise in the global system, it is inevitable, based on past experiences, that polarization will spread from nations to regions and unions. This is one of the reasons for the initiative of the EU to the Indo-Pacific region. The Union wishes to prove that it is one of the players at the table in the new global order. Indeed, the statements of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in her address on September 15, 2021, refer to the EU’s future vision:
“Europe needs to be more present and more active in the region. So we will work together to deepen trade links, strengthen global supply chains and develop new investment projects on green and digital technologies.”
 “Council Conclusions on an EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”, General Secretariat of the Council, https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-7914-2021-INIT/en/pdf, (Date of Accession: 11.02.2022).
 “The EU Strategy for Cooperation in The Indo-Pacific”, European Commission, https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/jointcommunication_2021_24_1_en.pdf, (Date of Accession: 11.02.2022).
 “Global Gateway”, European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/stronger-europe-world/global-gateway_en, (Date of Accession: 11.02.2022).
 Pierre Morcos, “The European Union is Shaping Its Strategy for the Indo-Pacific”, CSIS, https://www.csis.org/analysis/european-union-shaping-its-strategy-indo-pacific, (Date of Accession: 11.02.2022).
 Ursula von der Leyen, “2021 State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen”, European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_4701, (Date of Accession: 11.02.2022).