The EU is expected to push for a closer relationship with the Indo-Pacific as it sets out its new strategy for engagement with the region.
While the bloc is not due to publish its plans until Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “if Europe is to become a more active global player, it also needs to focus on the next generation of partnerships”.
A draft document says the EU wants new digital partnerships with Japan, South Korea and Singapore, and closer relations with Taiwan.
Ms von der Leyen said the new Indo-Pacific strategy “reflects the growing importance of the region to our prosperity and security, but also the fact that autocratic regimes use it to try to expand their influence.
“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,” she told the European Parliament in her annual address.
“This is a template for how Europe can redesign its model to connect the world.”
China's rise and assertiveness has also presented new challenges.
The European Council on Foreign Relations noted that most EU member states “are not significantly dependent on trade with China".
“Yet the Chinese market’s potential as a future source of growth and prosperity looms large across Europe, often affecting member states’ willingness to clearly position themselves on contentious policy issues.
“As China’s growing assertiveness and rivalry with the US increase tensions in the Indo-Pacific, it will be increasingly hard for Europeans to remain neutral.”
According to The Nikkei, citing a draft document of the strategy, the EU wants to improve its relations with Asia after its chaotic departure and evacuation from Afghanistan.
But it also calls for a “multifaceted” approach to engagement with China, while recognising how tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait could endanger European security.
Ms von der Leyen outlined EU plans to set up trade and infrastructure links in other parts of the world – including the Indo-Pacific region where China dominates – to rival Beijing's Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative.
“We are good at financing roads. But it does not make sense for Europe to build a perfect road between a Chinese-owned copper mine and a Chinese-owned harbour.
“We have to get smarter when it comes to these kinds of investments.”
The EU, she said, will soon unveil a “Global Gateway” strategy that she said would take a “values-based approach, offering transparency and good governance to our partners” to build links around the world to ensure it was “a trusted brand".
The initiative, she said, will be a “priority” in regional summits, beginning with an EU-Africa summit in February.
“We want investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services around the world.”