European External Action Service

09/16/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/16/2021 11:52

Indo-Pacific: Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President at the press conference on the Joint Communication

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Good afternoon,

We are living troubling times and we are submerged by crises and urgencies, but from time to time, it is good to lift our eyes and have a look at the big trends and position ourselves within History with a capital H [La Historia con mayúsculas]. And History will [be made] in the Indo-Pacific region. This is where History will [be made] in this century.

The Indo-Pacific is a very important part of the world for us. It is the future, where the world's centre of gravity is moving, both in geo-economic and geo-political terms.

Everybody knows it, but some figures show how important this part of the world is. This part of the world creates 60% of global GDP and two-thirds of global growth. Their share on CO2 emissions has been growing. They will represent 70% of the increase on energy demand in the next years. And for us, [the region] is the second largest destination for our [EU] exports, it is our second biggest market. And among the Indo-Pacific countries, there are four out of the top 10 partners on trade.

It is going to be the place where the middle class will grow [the most]. About 2.4 billion people of the emerging middle class [countries] will be there, [they] will come from this region. And it means [more] demand for consumption and investment.

It is a vibrant part of the world in economic terms. But together with this dynamism, the regional order is increasingly challenging. It is also the place where the geo-political competition between the United States and China is intensifying. And we see the consequences around the world, but most sharply in this region.

In this region, there are conflicts over land and maritime borders. And there is a lack of trust among the main players in the region. That is why we have an special interest - I would say a vital interest - that the regional order remains open and rules-based. We can say that one of the two aorta veins of the European [Union's] economy goes through this region. Through the South-Asia Sea, 40% of our trade is being conveyed by boat. We have a lot of interest in keeping this navigation area free.

We have a big stake in the region's future. And we want to be a contributor to the peace, stability and prosperity of the region.

I have to say that in my travels to the region, and in my conversations with my colleagues in the region, I perceived a strong interest on the European [Union's] engagement. We are recognised by our partners. They view us as trusted, consistent and reliable.

These are [the] reasons - I think sufficient reasons, more than enough reasons - to step up our Indo-Pacific engagement. This is why the High Representative and the Commission have produced this Indo-Pacific strategy.

This comes from the Council Conclusions of April [2021]. In April, the [EU] Foreign Affairs Ministers discussed the Indo-Pacific, reached [Council] Conclusions and asked the High Representative and the Commission to continue working on that and produce a more detailed and comprehensive document which was approved [by the Commission] this week.

We have not done it alone. We have been working closely with our Indo-Pacific partners. For example, the Japanese Foreign Minister [Toshimitsu Motegi] was at our Foreign Affairs Council in January. I have been in touch with my colleagues from Australia and New Zealand [in April]. Canberra sent a non-paper as a contribution to our debate.

I visited the region in June, especially the Headquarters of ASEAN. We had the Indian Foreign Minister [Subrahmanyam Jaishankar] at the last Gymnich and I met several times with several Foreign Ministers from the region in the margins of the G7 and G20, and also, especially, with the Foreign Ministers of Singapore [Vivian Balakrishnan] or South Korea [Chung Eui-yong].

On this Indo-Pacific Strategy, we have identified seven priority areas, with a set of concretes steps that are mentioned in the document. The first one is to put together sustainability, inclusiveness and prosperity. Prosperity, but it has to be inclusive and sustainable. As I said, the share of the world's [CO2] emissions is growing in this part of the world and they are the biggest demanders of energy. 70% of the increase in energy consumption will be coming from this area. So we need to put together inclusiveness, sustainability and prosperity.

It means green transition. It means good governance, especially of the oceans. [It means] digital governance and partnerships, and connectivity. As President [of the European Commission, Ursula] von der Leyen said in the State of the [European] Union speech, we want to be building links, not creating dependencies. We, at the European Union, remain a super-power on connectivity, but we want this connectivity to be based on sustainable, rules-based and not creating dependencies, but building friendly links.

And a special part [of the Indo-Pacific Strategy] is devoted to security and defence. The last one [priority area] would be human security. But on security and defence, I want to stress the importance that we give to a meaningful European naval presence in this area.

We will explore ways to ensure an enhanced naval deployment by our Member States in the region, taking into account the lessons learn from the first assessments of the Coordinated Maritime Presence concept.

We will assess the opportunity of establishing maritime areas of interest in the Indo-Pacific and engage with our partners in the region, associating them with our initiative, helping to create capacity-building projects in the Southern Pacific and participating in the ASEAN security architecture.

We will engage in other fora, such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and we will try to deploy our naval assets in a coordinated presence in the region.

Let us also remind that we are the biggest investor, because sometimes popular perception and reality are two different things. Let us look at reality, let us look at the numbers. We are the largest global investor in the region. We invest in the region twice what the United States invests.

The stock of our investments goes to €12 trillions, compared with something more of €6 trillions for the United States, €2 trillions for China and €1.5 trillions for Japan. Our financial contribution to the economic dynamism of the zone is the biggest among all their partners.

Also our development assistance is large and we are ready to continue on the path of openness and cooperation with our Asian partners.

A big priority will be our cooperation on global challenges. These are: to fight against the pandemic; to fight against climate change; and to develop the digital transformation of the economies and societies. And on that we have good partners: Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

We will deepen, as I said, our security engagement making our cooperation as concrete as possible, especially in the field of maritime and cyber security.

Let me stress a final point: our strategy is inclusive. It is open to all our partners in the region. We wish to cooperate from East Africa to the Pacific, and this includes China. On many areas, such as climate and biodiversity, China's cooperation is essential. Our strategy is one of cooperation, not confrontation. I think it is important to stress this sentence. Our strategy is built on the will to cooperate, not to confront.

At the same time, we want to deepen our cooperation with democratic and like-minded partners, there are many in the region. So this strategy is also about scaling up and diversifying our political and economic partnerships across the Indo-Pacific. We want to [be] open, to cooperate with all, but we want to scale up with the democratic and like-minded partners in the region, and they are many and [are] very important for us.

Above all, we want to uphold international law and defend values and democratic principles to which we are committed - as many Asian countries are too. So the motto of this Indo-Pacific strategy would be: cooperate whenever it is possible and protect our values and interests every time that it is necessary.

I think it is an important document, maybe one of the most geopolitical documents that we have been working on from the Council and the Commission. The times are especially important to present this strategy.

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