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EU strategy towards the Asia region

60 - EU institutions' approach towards Asia

Grade: B
Unity 2/5
Resources 4/5
Strategy 4/5
Impact 3/5
Total 13/20

The EU actively re-engaged with Asia, despite a proliferation of internal and neighbourhood crises.

New High Representative Federica Mogherini visited no fewer than five Asian countries in 2015, following a slow year in 2014 due to EU elections. She gave an indication of the direction she wished EU diplomacy on Asia to take under her lead, declaring repeatedly that the EU should be not only an economic partner but also a security partner to Asia. Whether this is a response to growing tensions in the region around territorial disputes, or to repeated calls from several Asian partners for greater EU engagement in the region, concrete commitments so far have been limited, and mostly focused on connectivity, dialogue, non-traditional threats, and the use of international law to resolve disputes.

The EU stepped up its engagement with ASEAN, after both sides had in 2014 stated their wish to move towards a “strategic partnership”. The EEAS and the Commission published a joint statement with proposals intended to enhance practical cooperation. It highlighted maritime security, and made an implicit call for EU accession to the East Asia Summit. The Council echoed this statement at its June meeting, but maritime security only rated a passing mention at the meeting compared to non-proliferation and non-conventional threats. When the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that it would hear the Philippines’ case against China over maritime disputes in the South China Sea, the EU failed to comment, despite the fact that it has made international law the crux of its position on the disputes.

Strikingly, the EU’s 2015 Asia focus has not included India. With stalled trade talks and a shortage of high-level visits, the relationship seems to be hostage to a legal case between India and Italy over Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen. Brussels found no time for an EU–India summit during PM Modi’s European visit. It is said that high-level contacts will resume in 2016, although neither side seems committed to breaking the deadlock.