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European Union Institute for Security Studies Analysis Nicola Casarini * September 2012 EU forEign Policy
Institute for
Security Studies
Nicola Casarini *
September 2012
EU forEign Policy in thE ASiA PAcific:
Striking thE right bAlAncE bEtwEEn
thE US, chinA And ASEAn

EU foreign policy in the Asia Pacific is stepping up a gear. The visit of Catherine Ashton to Asia in July 2012, which included her meeting with Chinese leaders, her subsequent participa- tion – for the first time – in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Phnom Penh and the issuing of the joint EU-US statement on the Asia Pacific, clearly indicate the interest, and the readi- ness, of the EU to be more involved in the region. With the Asia Pacific now firmly on the EU’s agenda and transatlantic cooperation on the region moving ahead, it is time for the EU to devise a clear strategic vision of its role and priorities in the area, including the development of its own autonomous position on the most important security flashpoints, with particular attention paid to the territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Only by doing so will the EU be better positioned to raise its profile and pro- mote more effectively its interests and values in this dis- tant – but increasingly important – part of the world.

EU-US Pacific partnership

The most publicised outcome of Ashton’s recent visit to Asia was the issuing of the joint EU-US statement on the Asia-Pa- cific region. This statement is the culmination of diplomatic efforts and consultations that have occurred between the transatlantic allies since autumn 2011, when the final dec- laration of the US-EU summit mentioned for the first time the Asia Pacific as a region where dialogue and coopera- tion can be furthered between Washington and Brussels. In preparation for the joint EU-US statement, the European Ex- ternal Action Service (EEAS) released on 15 June 2012 an up- dated and revised version of the Guidelines on the EU’s For- eign and Security Policy in East Asia first published in 2007. 1 The elaboration of the 2007 Guidelines began in summer

1. General Secretariat of the EU, Guidelines on the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East

Asia (11492/12), Brussels, 15 June 2012. This is the revised version of the Guidelines on the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia, adopted by the Council of the EU during the 2842nd Council Meeting (16183/07), Brussels, 20 December 2007.

© Ng Han Guan/AP/SIPA
© Ng Han Guan/AP/SIPA

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (left) shakes hand with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo after a press briefing at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

2005 – in the aftermath of the official shelving of the proposal to lift the EU arms embargo on China – and was adopted at the European Council in Brussels on 20 December 2007. The Guidelines were designed to send a reassuring message to the US about EU intentions in a region where security and public goods are guaranteed by Washington but where the Union is politically absent.

The publication of the Guidelines in 2007 marked the end of those elements of the EU-China relationship perceived to be detrimental to US’ role and responsibilities in East Asia, in particular the proposal by some EU member states to offer China greater political recognition by opening discussions on the lifting of the EU arms embargo imposed on Beijing after the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. With the publication of the revised Guidelines in June 2012 – which now mention issues absent in the previous version such as the South China Sea disputes – Brussels once again aligned its position on the Asia Pacific with that of Washington, thereby

* Nicola Casarini is a Research Fellow at the EUISS. He deals with EU-China and EU-East Asia relations and Chinese foreign policy.

deals with EU-China and EU-East Asia relations and Chinese foreign policy. European Union Institute for Security

European Union Institute for Security Studies

preparing the ground for the joint EU-US declaration at the ARF meeting in July. ‘like-minded’
preparing the ground for the joint EU-US declaration at the
ARF meeting in July.
‘like-minded’ and ‘natural political partners’ of the EU in the
Asia Pacific. 5
The joint EU-US statement on the Asia-Pacific region focuses on
three areas of concern for the transatlantic allies: security, sus-
tainable development, and trade. 2 Clear wording is used with
regard to territorial and maritime disputes in the South China
Sea which have the potential to affect the security of the sea
lanes on which US and EU trade with the region depend. In
this context, the EU-US joint declaration contains an expres-
sion of encouragement for ‘ASEAN and China to advance a
Code of Conduct and to resolve territorial and maritime dis-
putes through peaceful, diplomatic and cooperative solutions’.
The EU and the US also pledge their commitment ‘to work
with Asian partners on increasing maritime security based on
international law as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law
of the Sea’. These are important passages that show the com-
mitment of the transatlantic allies to the promotion of a stable
and peaceful environment in a region which nowadays seems
to have been put at risk by conflicting territorial and mari-
time claims between a rising and more assertive China and its
smaller and weaker neighbours of South East Asia.
It is a major tenet of the liberal school of international rela-
tions that the internal political system has important effects on
a state’s foreign policy and that democracies rarely fight each
other. During the administration of George W. Bush, US neo-
conservatives (amongst others) brought back to centre stage the
view that a democratic China poses less security challenges to
America. As a result, the US sponsored security accords among
its Asian allies in order to contain a perceived challenge to
America’s national interest stemming from autarchic countries
– mainly China – but without openly targeting Beijing for fear
of alienating the indispensable Chinese market and jeopardis-
ing the US system of alliances in the region, given that most of
the US’ Asian allies are increasingly dependent on the Chinese
economy. The Obama administration has followed a similar
approach towards the Asia Pacific, in a sign of continuity (and
bipartisanship) of US foreign policy on these issues.

The joint EU-US statement is undoubtedly a starting point for closer transatlantic cooperation in the Asia Pacific, and – as highlighted by Patryk Pawlak and Eleni Ekmektsioglou in a re- cent article 3 – includes an opportunity for the Western allies to promote a set of principles and values dear to their domes- tic public opinions which range from human rights to open markets and from the protection of intellectual property rights to the rule of law. In this vein, the joint statement can also be read as a political message addressed to China, indirectly criticising its socio-economic and political system which is still tightly controlled by the Communist Party.

The question of values and its foreign policy implications had been brought into the spotlight during the visit of US Secretary of State to Ulan Bator in early July. In a vigorous speech, Mrs Clinton praised the “pluralistic, democratic system” of Mongo- lia – the country on China’s doorstep – resurrecting the idea of a ‘community of democracies’, a concept similar to that of the ‘concert of democracies’ in vogue some years ago and used by the John McCain campaign during the 2008 US presiden- tial election. 4 At that time, the suggestion was made by the Republican camp that the political system of the People’s Re- public of China should not be treated as a neutral element but should, instead, have a bearing on the foreign policy of the liberal-democratic nations. The EU alluded to this issue in the Guidelines on the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia (both versions) when referring to Japan and South Korea as

2. Joint EU-US statement on the Asia Pacific region, Phnom Penh, 12 July 2012.

3. Patryk Pawlak and Eleni Ekmektsioglou, ‘America’s and Europe’s Pacific Partnership’,

The Diplomat, 23 July 2012. See also by the same authors: Transatlantic strategies in the

Asia Pacific, EUISS Analysis, June 2012.

4. Secretary Clinton’s Remarks to the Launch of Leaders Engaged in New Democracies Net-

work, Ulan Bator, 9 July 2012.

The Ashton-Clinton statement released at the end of the ARF meeting in July 2012 can thus be seen as part of a broader US-led strategy aimed at keeping China in check and dis- playing the unity of the Western liberal-democratic fam- ily in advancing a set of fundamental values and principles to the Chinese Communist Party leadership. But while the West appears united over sending a message to Beijing, dur- ing the last ARF meeting a division emerged among South East Asian countries precisely on the same subject, i.e. what kind of approach to adopt vis-à-vis a rising and economi- cally important – but also increasingly assertive – China?

US-china tussle and the emergence of competing camps

For the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history, the foreign min- isters of the 10-member bloc did not issue the traditional fi- nal communiqué which was expected this year to endorse the grouping’s position on a range of regional issues, most of all on the hotly debated topic of conflicting territorial and mari- time claims between China and some members of ASEAN. As the South China Sea becomes Asia’s biggest potential military flashpoint, opposing positions seem to be hardening, with China and the US each playing their proxies off against one an- other in their struggle for regional supremacy. This time it was Cambodia that refused to allow the Philippines, supported by Vietnam (and unofficially by the US), to include a reference in a communiqué to a recent stand-off between Manila’s naval ves- sels and Beijing’s ships over a reef claimed by both countries.

It should be noted that Cambodia, the chair holder of the last

ASEAN summit held in July 2012, depends largely on Chinese investments which are 10 times higher than US investments in

5. Guidelines on the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia (2012), point 20, p. 14.

EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia (2012), point 20, p. 14. European Union Institute

European Union Institute for Security Studies

the country. Cambodia – supported by other ASEAN members – turned down the request by
the country. Cambodia – supported by other ASEAN members
– turned down the request by the Philippines on the ground
that the question is a bilateral one – which is China’s policy
line – and that as such the 10-member bloc should not involve
communiqué precise wording critical of China – a move that
was resisted by Cambodia, and as mentioned above, split the
South East Asian bloc.
themselves. This episode is a glaring demonstration of the in-
creasing divisions within ASEAN, as the bloc’s member states
are increasingly torn between China and the US. 6
China’s rise is unsettling established power relations in the
Asia Pacific, leading the US and its Asian allies to reassess
their threat perceptions as well as overhaul their defence strat-
egies and capabilities. Since 2010, Beijing has adopted a more
assertive posture over territorial and maritime disputes with
its maritime neighbours, including statements from repre-
sentatives of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that the South
China Sea is now a ‘core issue’, giving the impression that the
Sea is being elevated to the same strategic significance as Tai-
wan or Tibet. 7 The US has responded with a policy of re-en-
gagement to Asia, encapsulated in the notion of the US ‘pivot’
pronounced by Barack Obama during his visit to the region in
November 2011. This stance has been subsequently backed by
the issuing of the US new Defense Strategic Guidance in Janu-
ary 2012 which includes plans to realign US forces and set up
a new US Marine Corps base in Darwin, Australia, responsible
The US pivot to Asia has been largely welcomed by Wash-
ington’s allies and partners in the region. At the same time,
South East Asian countries in particular are increasingly wor-
ried about the growing geopolitical tussle between Washing-
ton and Beijing, including the risk for the region to see two
competing camps emerge with potentially disruptive effects
on economic growth and prosperity. This apprehension is not
limited to South East Asia but extends also to the north east of
the region. Japan and South Korea, the main US allies in the
area, would also prefer not to have to choose between Wash-
ington and Beijing. While their security depends on the US,
Tokyo’s and Seoul’s socio-economic development increasingly
depends on the Chinese market (much like Europe in both re-
gards). In this geopolitical situation, where economic and se-
curity interests do not necessarily overlap – as they did, for ex-
ample, during the Cold War – and where the responsibility for
diplomatic skirmishes and emerging tensions in the East and
South China Sea lies in both camps, EU policy makers need
to tackle the following question: does it remain in the long-
term interest of the EU to be perceived as being closely aligned
with the US in the Asia Pacific and renouncing the chance
for its distinctive – and more neutral – voice to be heard?

for the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. By increasing military bases near the ocean around China, Washington aims to boost deterrence against the Chinese armed forces which are currently strengthening their maritime presence. The tus- sle between the two powers for regional leadership has firmly set in and it is likely to intensify in the near future.

in praise of closer EU-ASEAn relations

Neither China nor the US are neutral actors in the South China Sea disputes. 8 At the beginning of August, the US State De- partment issued a statement on the South China Sea which was strongly condemned by China afterwards. 9 While Wash- ington claims to take no side over disputes in the South China Sea, recent US initiatives give a different impression. A few days before the ARF meeting, Hillary Clinton, on a state visit to Cambodia, declared that China’s approach to solving territorial disputes was a recipe for “confrontation”. The US Secretary of State was referring, among other things, to the decision by Beijing to create the new prefecture town of Sansha on the small island of Yongxing in the Paracels archipelago which is also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines. The declaration by the US Secretary of State emboldened the government of the Philippines in its demands to include in the ASEAN’s final

6. On current US-China relations and growing misperceptions between the two see:

Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, ‘How China Sees America: The Sum of Beijing’s

Fears’, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2012.

For many in Europe, the EU-27 lacks the capabilities and nec-

essary cohesion to enforce its own vision in the Asia Pacific. As

a result, for the EU-sceptics it would be wiser for the Union

to either not play a role at all in the region – a position re- cently put forward, for instance, by Jonathan Holslag 10 – or if the EU were to decide to be more politically active in the Far

East, it should do so in close coordination with its US ally. Ac- cording to this view, the US pivot to Asia and – as a corollary

– an EU alignment on US policy would provide the Union with

the opportunity to raise its profile in the region without hav- ing to commit additional resources at a time of austerity and budget cuts across Europe. This is an understandable position.

It needs to be kept in mind, however, that close alignment

with the US in the Asia Pacific also entails the risk for the EU of becoming irrelevant in the region as well as forsaking the window of opportunity opened by the changing regional dy- namics, in particular among the countries of South East Asia which are eager to welcome outside actors in order to balance

off China and the US.
























pp. 30-44.

8. Sam Bateman, ‘Increasing competition in the South China Sea – Need for a new game

plan’, RSIS Commentaries, n. 157/2012, 21 August 2012. See also Christopher Freise, By Invitation Mostly: The International Politics of the US Security Presence, China, and the South China Sea, RSIS Working Paper, 28 August 2012.

9. US State Department, South China Sea, press statement by Patrick Ventrell, Acting Dep-

uty Spokesperson, Office of Press Relations, Washington D.C., 3 August 2012. For a Chi-

nese reply see: ‘China strongly opposes US State Department’s statement on South China Sea’, Global Times, 5 August 2012.

There are mounting expectations from South East Asian lead- ers of ‘more Europe’, i.e. of an alternative voice coming from the West to diversify an otherwise emergent US-China duopoly that risks squeezing the smaller and weaker Asian countries

10. Jonathan Holslag, ‘Europe’s convenient marginalisation’, European Voice, 5 July 2012.

convenient marginalisation’, European Voice , 5 July 2012. European Union Institute for Security Studies 3

European Union Institute for Security Studies

between the two great powers and split the ASEAN grouping. Closer EU-ASEAN links would be
between the two great powers and split the ASEAN grouping.
Closer EU-ASEAN links would be a natural step for the EU. In
fact, if Brussels were to have something like a ‘natural political
partner’ in the Asia Pacific, the ASEAN grouping would most
probably be it. Both the EU and ASEAN share a commitment
to regional integration – as a means of fostering stability and
prosperity – and to multilateralism – as a way to constrain
unilateralism and hegemonic attitudes. Consequently, would
it not be better for the EU to engage the ASEAN bloc more
closely and support the smaller countries of South East Asia
in their efforts to forge a unitary stance and raise their voice
vis-à-vis a growing US-China tussle for regional leadership?
Would such an approach not be more in tune with EU mission
and foreign policy objectives of advancing effective multilat-
eralism and opposing hegemonic attitudes, no matter where
they come from?
rising China can, however, be accommodated into Europe’s
post-Cold War worldview. The EU has, in fact, indicated in
the European Security Strategy its preference for a benign and
cooperative multipolar international system whose modus op-
erandi is multilateralism, with the United Nations playing a
central role. 11 Furthermore, for the EU – and in particular the
continental member states of Central and Western Europe that
have been more active in promoting enhanced cooperation in
monetary affairs and other fields – the rise of China has been
largely a boon.
The Chinese government has supported the EU’s integration
process over the last decades – including aspirations by the
EU to play a bigger role in world affairs –unwaveringly, and
like no other international actor. Take for instance the case of
the euro. While US policy makers had mixed feelings about
the European common currency, worrying that its creation
would weaken the global status of the dollar, the Chinese go-
vernment supported it from the beginning, starting a proc-
ess of diversification of its reserves that continues until today.
Since 2011, China has begun disinvesting away in earnest from
dollar-denominated assets and increasing its holdings of the
euro. 12 According to data from the US Treasury, while overall
foreign demand for dollar securities has remained strong, the
percentage of dollar holdings in China’s foreign reserves (the
world’s largest) has fallen to a decade-low of 54 percent in
2011 from 65 percent in 2010, with the trend for 2012 set to
continue along this way. 13 The main beneficiary of this diver-
sification strategy has been the euro, which now accounts for
around one-third of China’s foreign reserves. 14

In order to be perceived as a neutral actor on Asian security affairs, including the disputes in the South China Sea, the EU needs not to take either the side of the US or China. The long- term strategic value of issuing another transatlantic statement similar to the one of July 2012 should therefore be questioned. Given that such an initiative by the US and the EU, while posi- tive in its intention, could also be used by Washington in its diplomatic tussle with Beijing and be interpreted by the Asian countries as a sign of EU clear alignment on one side. Greater independence from its American ally would raise the EU’s pro- file in the region and be in the long-term interest of the Union. This should be accompanied, however, by a firm position – including autonomous declarations when necessary – against China’s assertive behaviour towards its smaller and weaker maritime neighbours, in order not to give the impression to South East Asian countries that greater political autonomy from Washington translates into pandering to the Chinese regime.


non-aligned position on the South China Sea disputes (where,


is important to recall, neither China nor the US are neutral

actors) would be instrumental for furthering EU-ASEAN politi- cal links. Non-alignment could also create the conditions for the EU to initiate a dialogue with Beijing on Asian security and the South China Sea, providing the Union with an additional opportunity to advance a multilateral approach to finding a solution to the outstanding territorial and maritime disputes. An autonomous – and balanced – EU foreign policy in the Asia Pacific is even more necessary at this historical juncture, char- acterised by the existence of diverging interests, and views, between the EU and the US vis-à-vis China.

Chinese support for the eurozone runs parallel with grow- ing speculation from Wall Street-based international banks and hedge funds against the peripheral countries of the euro area. Speculative moves find suitable ground in the spiralling debt, domestic imbalances, and declining competitiveness in these countries. But the speculation is also directed against countries which are implementing important reform pack- ages and with sound macro-economic fundamentals. The aim seems more and more to be the break-up of the eurozone in order to gain from a return of individual national currencies. These speculative moves have been accompanied by a repa- triation of $250-300 billion from Europe back to America ac- cording to the specialised press 15 A similar amount of money has, instead, been pouring into the euro area from the East, in particular from Chinese financial institutions. These flows partially explain why the value of the euro against the dollar has decreased – but not plummeted.

the EU-china connection

For many in Washington, a rising China is the most ominous strategic challenge to America’s global primacy. This is a con- cern which is shared by many US allies in the region, most notably Japan which has traditionally vied with Beijing for regional leadership. For the EU, however, China is neither a potential enemy, nor a military threat – though the non-dem- ocratic nature of the Chinese regime continues to be viewed with suspicion by EU policy makers and public opinions. A

11. European Council, A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy, Brus-

sels, 12 December 2003 (updated and revised in 2008).

12. Lan Shen, Stephen Green and Thomas Costerg, “China: Less America, more Europe”,

Standard Chartered Global Research, 20 June 2011. See also: Jamil Anderlini and Tracy Allo- way, “Trades reveal China shift from dollar”, Financial Times, Tuesday 21 June 2011, p. 1.

13. The Wall Street Journal, “China looses appetite for dollar”, 27 March 2012, p. 1.

14. Nicola Casarini, “China’s Approach to US Debt and the Eurozone Crisis”, China’s Ge-

oeconomic Strategy, London: LSE IDEAS (Special report), June 2012, pp. 43-47.

15. See for instance: Patrick Jenkins, Tom Braithwaite, Dan McCrum and Tracy Alloway,

‘US banks haunted by spectre of eurozone’, Financial Times, 5 August 2012, See also Mary Watkins, ‘US money market funds shun eurozone banks’, Financial Times, 23 May 2012.

money market funds shun eurozone banks’, Financial Times , 23 May 2012. European Union Institute for

European Union Institute for Security Studies

Chinese support for the EU is not confined to monetary and financial issues. China has
Chinese support for the EU is not confined to monetary and
financial issues. China has also backed Europe’s space ambi-
tions, lending both political and financial support to Galileo,
the EU-led global navigation satellite system alternative to
the American GPS. When the European satellite system was
launched, the US firmly opposed it for fear of a challenge to
its space primacy and leadership in key strategic and high-
tech industrial sectors. China, however, actively supported the
European project committing tens of millions of euro and be-
coming Galileo’s most important non-EU partner.
China has made it clear several times – and even inscribed
it in the China’s EU policy paper – its commitment to engage
with the EU on defence and military affairs, alongside simi-
lar dialogues that the Chinese government entertains with the
most powerful EU member states. 17 Catherine Ashton first met
with the Chinese Defence Minister in October 2011. On that oc-
casion, the Chinese side tested the EU’s capacity to adopt a
coherent position and speak on behalf of the 27 member states
on issues which still remain a national prerogative. There was
no guarantee at that time that Beijing would continue such
a dialogue on a regular basis. The second meeting between
Ashton and Liang stood thus as an additional recognition of
the EU’s post-Lisbon institutional arrangement, including ex-
pectations that the ‘EU level’ will play a bigger role on security
and defence policy in the future. It also signals a rather prag-
matic take by the Chinese side on the question of the EU arms
embargo – currently shelved and with no solution in sight. The
existence of an EU arms embargo on China has traditionally
been viewed by leaders in Beijing as plain discrimination to-
wards their country and one of the major obstacles for the full
development of Sino-European political and military relations.
The commitment by the two sides to continue their dialogue
on defence and security policy can therefore be seen as a stra-
tegic achievement by those EU officials committed to avoiding
that the arms ban stands in the way of closer EU-China politi-
cal relations.

For the EU – and in particular the core members of Central and Western Europe more active in promoting integration – China has been more of a strategic opportunity than a threat. In the last years a discourse of a Chinese economic challenge has, however, emerged in some EU member states based on the perception that China has been invading European markets with cheap products and taking away jobs in the manufac- turing sectors. This view is strengthened by Beijing’s active industrial policy which is turning the country into a low-cost competitor in high-skill industries. 16 The rapid growth of skill- intensive imports from China represents a serious challenge for certain European industrial sectors that are considered sensitive. Moreover, it is widely felt in Europe that many Chi- nese sectors – most notably the public procurement market – are close to outside competitors, leading some EU policy makers such as Karel De Gucht – the EU Commissioner for Trade – to increase calls for greater reciprocity in EU-China relations. Nevertheless, the domestic politicisation of China, and the consequent linkage between commercial and security issues, has remained significantly less marked in the EU than in the US.

Overall – and besides the existence of an economic and trade challenge affecting some industrial sectors – the majority of EU policy makers and public opinions have not bought into the ‘China threat’ discourse coming from the more conservative quarters of the US and some of its Asian allies. This situation allows the EU to be better positioned than the US for further dialogue with China on security and defence-related matters, including discussion of regional (Asian) and global security is- sues. The recent visit by Ashton to China served precisely this goal, e.g. to foster ties between the EU and the Chinese mili- tary.

On 10 July 2012, Catherine Ashton met with Dai Bingguo, State Councillor of the PRC, and General Liang Guanglie, the Chi- nese Defence Minister, in the framework of the third EU-China High-level Strategic Dialogue. The two sides discussed prac- tical ways to enhance cooperation on international issues of mutual concern, including bolstering contacts between their special representative and special envoys. Moreover, the two sides agreed to hold a regular EU-China dialogue on defence and security policy.

Effective dialogue between the EU and the Chinese Defence Ministry is even more necessary at this historical moment. Since most of the more hawkish positions over territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Sea come from the People’s Liberation Army, by engaging with the Chinese

military the EU can use its weight to contribute to furthering

a peaceful and multilateral solution to the ongoing disputes between Beijing and its neighbours. China has clearly in-

dicated its preference for bilateral talks on the South China Sea disputes but has not ruled out the possibility of pursuing those negotiations in a multilateral setting, as preferred by the ASEAN members. Beijing has also declared that it would not accept outside actors such as the US, Japan, or India to play

a role in the negotiations over territorial and maritime dis-

putes, since these countries are considered by China to have too many vested interests in the region. The EU, instead, can present itself as a more neutral actor on the South China Sea disputes, in particular if it is able to show more autonomy from Washington. The experience of the EU in brokering peace ne- gotiations and settling disputes could be used to find a com- promise between ASEAN’s and China’s positions on the South China Sea. A regular dialogue with Beijing on defence and se- curity policy, including discussions on Asia’s main flashpoints, could well parallel EU-US dialogue and cooperation on the Asia Pacific region. In this way, the EU would have more op-

portunities – and leverage – to play a constructive diplomatic role in building initiatives for reducing emerging tensions in the region.

16. See on this point Jonathan Holslag, ‘Unravelling Harmony: How Distorted Trade Im- perils the Sino-European Partnership’, Journal of World Trade, Vol. 46, No. 2, April 2012, pp. 221-238.

17. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China’s EU Policy Paper, Beijing, October 2003.

conclusion: striking the right balance EU foreign policy in the Asia Pacific is set to
conclusion: striking the right balance
EU foreign policy in the Asia Pacific is set to face both oppor-
tunities and challenges over the next years, in particular in
relation to the US, China and ASEAN. They include:
be the most likely issue of contention between the trans-
atlantic allies, the establishment of an EU-US high-level
strategic dialogue on China could help the two sides in-
crease mutual understanding and avoid misperceptions,
as well as help the EU explain to their American coun-
terparts its own – and eventually distinctive – position;
The opportunity coming from closer EU-US cooperation
on the Asia Pacific region to advance joint interests as
well as a set of principles and rules dear to Western pub-
lic opinions. At the same time, the EU needs to increase
its autonomy from Washington in order to avoid giving
the impression to be too closely aligned with the US and
risk becoming irrelevant. EU autonomy from Washing-
ton is also necessary to enforce a position that acknowl-
edges the existence of diverging interests (and views)
between the transatlantic allies vis-à-vis a rising China;
- Foster relations with China on defence and security pol-
icy and consider establishing an EU-China dialogue on
Asian security. The EU should use its soft power and non-
threatening image to engage Beijing on security issues,
including in defence and military-related policy fields.
EU dialogue with the Chinese military should be used to
on defence and securitypolicy, accompanied bythe challenge
for the EU to maintain a critical attitude towards the Chi-
nese regime and the more nationalistic postures of the PLA;
identify areas for cooperation on international security is-
sues of mutual concern as well as further a peaceful and
multilateral solution to territorial and maritime disputes
in the East and South China Sea. Engagement with the
PLA presents an additional opportunity for the EU to play
constructive diplomatic role in building initiatives for
The opportunity to exploit the demand for ‘more Europe’
coming from South East Asian nations eager to welcome
outside actors to balance off China and the US. With this
comes the challenge for the EU to devise an autonomous
position on the South China Sea disputes and to try to re-
main equidistant from the US and China, resisting in par-
ticular pressures coming from Washington to take its side.
reducing tensions in the region. Yet, building links with
the Chinese military also necessitates the setting up of
an independent EU capability to assess and monitor mili-
tary developments within the People’s Republic of China
(and in the region) in order to be able to effectively en-
tertain a dialogue with Beijing on hard security matters;
- Boost political links with ASEAN and consider establish-
ing an EU-ASEAN dialogue on the South China Sea. Recent
events have contributed to changing the image of the EU
in the region in a favourable direction. The attendance of

In light of these opportunities and challenges, it is clear there is a need for the EU to devise a strategic vision for the region based on a balanced approach between the US, China and ASEAN. Such an approach would better contribute to the promotion of the Un- ion’s interests and values as well as advance the EU’s mission of promoting multilateralism and opposing hegemonic attitudes.

The EU could, in particular:

- Continue close consultation with the US on the Asia Pa- cific and consider establishing a EU-US high-level stra- tegic dialogue on China. The EU needs to acknowledge the unique role of the US in guaranteeing the security of the Asia Pacific region, but it also needs to recognise that Washington has its own agenda which is not neces- sarily always in the best interest of the EU. There is need for Brussels to develop its own independent assessment of dynamics in the Asia Pacific and adopt – in particular situations and when needed – an autonomous position. This position may often be in line with that of the US, but at other times not. The ability by the EU to show in- dependence from Washington will be the litmus test for EU foreign policy in the Asia Pacific. Since China might

Catherine Asthon at the last ARF meeting, for instance, put an end to two years of the Union’s glaring absence from the foremost intergovernmental dialogue forum for the

promotion of cooperative security in the Asia Pacific. There

is now demand for an increased EU role to help the ASEAN

grouping to find a balance between China and the US. The EU could seize on this opportunity window by considering the establishment of a regular EU-ASEAN dialogue on the South China Sea. This could allow the Union to promote further its model of peaceful regional integration and ac- company it with backing for the weaker countries of South

East Asia, promoting a multilateral perspective and trying

to limit the growing US-China jostling for regional suprem-

acy that risks creating competing camps.

Were the EU able to find the necessary internal strength to devise a more autonomous, and neutral, course of action in the Asia Pacific, full membership of the East Asian Summit (the main institutional forum for discussion of Asian affairs) may become a serious possibility. With an increased EU political presence in the Asia Pacific, there is also a greater prospect for the EU model of interstate relations to take root more vigor- ously in a region still beset by competing nationalisms and balance-of-power logic.