The European Union does not want to see the strategic rivalry between China and the United States develop into a cold war and will seek to cooperate with all parties in the Indo-Pacific region, a senior Brussels official said on Tuesday.
On Monday the EU adopted its first joint strategy for the Indo-Pacific, which said that while it was committed to closer cooperation with the US, it also acknowledged the need to engage and work with China on many matters of common interests.
Gunnar Wiegand, the managing director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic and defence department, told an online conference that the bloc was adopting a “European approach” to the region and was looking after its own interests.
He said Europe had learned many lessons from the Cold War – where many of its members found themselves on different sides of the Iron Curtain – and said: “We certainly have no interest as Europeans to see the world falling back into anything like a cold war [or] a hot war. So we will always promote cooperation over confrontation.”
He also said many others in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Association of Southeast Asian States, also want to avoid having to take sides.
The EU recently introduced sanctions on Chinese officials accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang – prompting retaliatory measures from Beijing and increasing the uncertainty about whether the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment would be approved by the European Council and Parliament.
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But Wiegand said this issue was separate from the EU’s Indo-Pacific policy, adding that the deal was in the interests of European companies with interests in China and would leave them better placed to compete with US and Chinese businesses.
“I’m not optimistic. I’m not pessimistic. When the right time comes, everybody will have to take their own decisions and responsibility,” he said.
Wiegand identified climate change as the key area where the EU wanted to cooperate with China, citing its role as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and in tackling plastic waste.
He added that Europe hoped for broad-based cooperation with partners in the region on other policy areas, including health and research.
The EU document also implied there would be a greater European naval presence in the region, including the disputed South China Sea, with France, Germany and the Netherlands planning to send or considering sending warships there.
Wiegand said the security of maritime supply routes was a vital strategic interest for Europe.
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