Officials said the proposal, headed up by France, Denmark and Germany, is aimed at bolstering EU ties with Australia, India and Japan, and would raise the bloc’s presence in the Indo-Pacific area amid an escalating regional spat with Beijing over control of the South China Sea.
Outlining the plan on Monday, EU officials said member states agree “that the EU should reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific”, emphasising the importance of “the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law.”
Despite the potential for this to be seen as a challenge to Beijing’s position and activity in the region, the EU was swift to add that the plan is not “anti-China” but is about focusing on working with “like-minded partners”.
The suggestion from the EU that the bloc will become involved in “responding to challenges to international security, including maritime security” could be seen as Brussels giving its backing to the US in Washington’s increasingly confrontational relations with China over military movements in the South China Sea.
China has repeatedly said that it is simply protecting the 1.3 million square mile area which it claims as its sovereign territory. Speaking at a scheduled press briefing recently, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated that the country’s “sovereignty, rights and interests in the South China Sea have been formed throughout a long course of history and are consistent with international law.”
The US recently held military drills alongside forces from the Philippines in the South China Sea over a two-week period, claiming the demonstration was intended to show their “shared commitment to peace and stability”, and “to strengthen our security cooperation”.
Despite China’s concerns that the US is engaging in aggressive and antagonistic behavior in the region, Washington has claimed its naval activity is a “freedom of navigation operation” to ensure continued international access to the Indo-Pacific.