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 a 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] and 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.

Link to the video:



Q. Première question qui s’impose vu l’actualité, je suppose que l’Australie fait partie de la zone indopacifique. Est-ce que l’alliance annoncée cette nuit avec les États-Unis et le Royaume Uni, au dépend d’un contrat important avec un État Membre de l’Union européenne qu’est la France, est-ce que cela a affaibli la stratégie de l’Union européenne ? Est-ce que déjà un partenaire sur lequel on comptait beaucoup et avec qui on négociait un accord de libre-échange important qui fait faux bond, en quelque sorte ?

C’était une question inévitable n’est-ce pas ? Je comprends fort bien que l’actualité domine les événements. Au contraire, ces événements auxquels vous faites référence montre que cette stratégie est importante. Parce que ces événements ne font que montrer l’importance de la région et la nécessité de notre engagement. Cette alliance ne fait que souligner l’importance de l’Indo-pacifique et combien elle est importante pour nous aussi, et ne fait que souligner que la région est très importante pour notre sécurité et elle est importante pour nos capacités économiques. Je ne dirai pas que je me réjouis de la coïncidence du jour, mais j’en profite pour marquer à quel point cette stratégie est très opportune. De notre côté, je comprends fort bien à quel point le gouvernement français doit être déçu et je suis d’accord avec mes collègues les Ministres de la défense et des Affaires étrangères de la France à propos des besoins d’augmenter notre présence dans l’Indo-pacifique pour défendre nos intérêts et nos valeurs.

Q. Vous avez insisté dans vos propos préliminaires sur la nécessité d’avoir la confiance dans les partenaires et cette stratégie va reposer sur des partenariats. On a un vrai problème de confiance, et la France l’a souligné, avec l’Australie, mais aussi on a un vrai problème de confiance avec le Royaume Uni et les États Unis, dont les dirigeants renient leurs paroles et leurs engagements. Vous nous avez confié qu’effectivement, l’alliance qui a été conclue, le pacte de sécurité entre ces trois pays dans l’Indo-pacifique, vous n’avez pas été consultés, vous n’avez pas étés informés, vous l’avez découvert grosso modo comme nous tous par la presse. C’est quand même une façon un peu cavalière de voir le partenariat avec des partenaires qui sont très importants dans cette région. Je vois que vous comprenez la déception de la France, je voudrais savoir si effectivement ce partenariat part sur de bonnes bases avec certains des grands acteurs dans la région. Je voudrais aussi savoir si cette stratégie finalement intéresse beaucoup les États de l’Union européenne, car on voit qu’une des grandes causes c’est la liberté de navigation. Quand il s’est agi de demander aux États membres de l’Union européenne de déployer des forces navales de la région, il y en a 3 sur 27 qui ont accepté d’envoyer des bateaux. Et quand les Allemands ont envoyé un navire, les Chinois ont tellement fait une « bronca » qu’à Berlin, ils ont rapatrié le navire. Quelle est la limite de ce grand projet, qui sur le papier est très séduisait, mais qui va se heurter à beaucoup de problèmes matériels.

 Bien sûr, cela va se heurter à des problèmes et des difficultés. Personne n’a dit que ce serait facile, mais il faut quand même s’y engager. Je comprends le sens de votre question. Oui, c’est vrai, cette alliance, nous venons d’en prendre connaissance et nous n’avions pas été consultés. Moi, en tant que haut représentant pour la politique de sécurité de l’Union européenne, certainement je n’étais pas au courant et je suppose qu’un accord de cette nature n’a pas été cuisiné avant-hier, cela prend un certain temps. Malgré cela, oui, nous n’avons pas été consultés. Nous étions partie prenante et ça nous oblige à nouveau, et c’est une bonne occasion de le rappeler, de réfléchir à la nécessité de porter haut la question de l’autonomie stratégique européenne.

C’est une nouvelle preuve du besoin d’exister par nous-mêmes, puisque les autres existent par eux-mêmes. Cela n’affaiblit pas les rapports avec l’Australie, évidemment non, c’est un partenaire de plus dans la région. Je comprends, une fois de plus, la déception du gouvernement français dans ce qui fait référence à ses perspectives de coopération dans le terrain industriel et militaire. Mais ça nous oblige à nous, européennes, une fois de plus, je le répète, à porter haut la réflexion sur notre autonomie stratégique.

Évidemment, pas tous les pays européens se sentiront engagés pour l’Indo-pacifique de la même manière. De la même manière que pas tous les pays se sentent engagés pour des conflits dans notre voisinage. La géographie compte, les intérêts économiques, aussi. Mais ces évènements-là sont aussi une façon de réveiller les européens pour leur montrer qu’il faut qu’ils prennent des initiatives par eux-mêmes, et qu’il faut qu’ils engagent des moyens. Il y en a qui les ont et d’autres qui ne les ont pas, mais c’est pour cela qu’il faut travailler ensemble avec cette présence coordonnée. Il ne s’agit pas d’envoyer une flotte européenne, mais d’utiliser la présence des bateaux européens de différents pays. Tous les jours, il y a des bateaux de pays européens qui se croisent quelque part dans le monde, et en particulier dans l’Indo-pacifique. Il faut renforcer cette présence et la coordonner, de façon à ce que ce soit une présence que l’on puisse considérer une présence dont tous les pays européens en tirent un profit et y participent dans la mesure, évidemment, de leur volonté.

Q. On this new alliance, more generally, in terms of looking ahead, do you think that this new alliance, which you said has come to you as a surprise and that you as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs were not consulted or told about? Do you think it highlights the need for the European Union and the United Kingdom to negotiate some kind of security and defence cooperation agreement post-Brexit? Does it show that the United Kingdom cannot be trusted or does it actually show that such an agreement and such lines of communication are needed? And surely on top of that, the European Union should be rallying around France, should it not? France is the only country that has a significant naval presence in the region. Surely the European Union should actually be on the side of a French in this dispute.

Since the beginning of the Brexit, we have been very much in favour of continuing a strong cooperation on security, defence and foreign policy with our British friends, and we still are. There has not been a lot of enthusiasm from their side, but we continue being ready to cooperate. What has happened does not mean that we are going to close any door to anyone. We had [an] interest in cooperating with the United Kingdom; we continue having [an] interest in cooperating with the United Kingdom. It is a European country, even if it is not a member of the European Union and it has an important fleet. So we will be very happy if they want to participate on these coordinated presence. Nothing will prevent us from being willing to cooperate with the United Kingdom if they want. You need ‘two to dance the tango’, but from our part, we are ready to dance.

Q. Could you clarify that the Indo-Pacific Strategy by the European Union is or is not to counter China as many of the news media and everyone else talks about? And you also mentioned that the European Union will deploy naval assets there. What is the reason? Because it is already the most over-militarised area, why it makes more crowded is that the European Union’s trade is being threatened? Your Chinese counterpart, Mr Wang Yi, just visited Southeast Asia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, and they all agreed to pursue further consultation for the code of conduct. Why do you think it is not a good idea to let countries in the region solve the issue by themselves, as long historical issue is not going to be solved overnight?

I think I have said that very clearly and I repeated it even a couple of times. I do not mind to repeat it again. Our Strategy is not a Strategy of confrontation. It is a Strategy of cooperation. With everybody, but especially with like-minded countries. I think that I said it, but I repeat is. It is not a Strategy to confront or contain, [it] is a Strategy of cooperation.

Certainly, we do not want to go there to solve problems. The countries of the region are the main actors in the region, and it is up to them to solve their problems. We are not going there to give lessons or to bring solutions. They are much better fitted to do that. But, at the same time, we are concerned, interested in the security of the navigation on this part of the world, and we have warships everywhere in the world. I think that our presence there has not to be considered as a threat to anyone, but as a contribution to the security of the maritime lines of transportation. There are many threats in the area and our presence will increase the security in this area.

Q. First, to follow up on my colleague's question concerning the talks with Australia on trade, the European Union is negotiating a trade agreement. Will there be consequences? Will the European Commission ask for explanations to Canberra because of the break of a commercial contract with a European Union Member State? And second, you have made some comments about what the latest steps by the United States and other international partners should make the European Union think about, the reflections that we should have. But I was wondering if you could make an evaluation on the state of the European Union-United States relations after the election of President Biden. The hopes were very high in Europe, but I think the communication has not been really great concerning the retreat from Afghanistan and just now about this very important strategic alliance.

No creo que sea el momento de entrar en una evaluación global de las relaciones entre Europa y Estados Unidos. Estoy aquí para presentar una estrategia con los países del Indo-Pacífico y creo que Estados Unidos no es parte de los países del Indo-Pacífico.

Con respecto a Australia, que es un país del área, no mezclemos unas cosas con otras. Estamos allí con una voluntad de cooperación con los estados que nos son más próximos. Australia ciertamente es uno de ellos. Nosotros no practicamos actuaciones motivadas por circunstancias como las que hoy les ocupan. Los acuerdos comerciales con Australia seguirán su camino, pero naturalmente querremos saber más del alcance de este acuerdo que hemos conocido hoy.

Y seguro que estará también en la agenda del más alto nivel político europeo cuando discutamos el Strategic Compass. Cuando dentro de unas semanas o meses el Strategic Compass sea conocido, una parte importante del Strategic Compass estará dedicado a la situación en el Indo-Pacífico. Y este será también el momento de discutir con más conocimiento del que tenemos ahora sobre las decisiones que hemos conocido hoy, que no deberían debilitar la importancia de la estrategia que hoy presentamos. Sería una pena que la actualidad del día le quitara transcendencia a la importancia de un documento estratégico como este, que quizás tenga más importancia todavía.

Q. There are a lot of very lofty, ambitious goals in this Strategy, of what we want to do, what we hope to do. In five years’ time, give us some way of measuring whether this Strategy will be successful. What will be different? What will be happening? How will Europe's influence have grown in this region? And my second question, to come back to the alliance issue and the pact announced last night, Mr Biden likes to say how important the Europeans are, how important the European alliances are, but does not what happened last night just show once again that when it matters, when push comes to shove, the Americans do not trust Europe to make a real difference, to advance their real interests, in respect of China in this case?

If this Strategy works, we should be able to obtain concrete results in the seven areas I mentioned. And, one of them, maybe the one in which we can quantify more the results is climate. If we are able to work together in order to decrease the rate of growth of the emissions in this area, not the energy consumption, the energy consumption will have to increase in this area. Like it or not, the energy consumption per capita is very low, it has to increase. But it can increase without increasing emissions. And this will require a strong partnership, technological and sharing the concern and taking actions. Climate diplomacy with the Indo-Pacific region is maybe the most important climate diplomacy that we can have around the world because there is the big issue.

Five years maybe is too late for that, but let us see how we are able to contribute to make the energy consumption of this countries climate friendly. We will have also to have a look at how can we work together on setting standards for the digital revolution. Some other countries in this area are more advanced than us and others certainly have a technological capacity that has to be shared with us. We have been the standard-setters until now and if we want to continue being standard-setters this will have to be done in partnership with the countries of the Indo-Pacific area, who are on the forefront of the technological development.

On the ocean governance, are we going to be able to decrease the tensions and to make the South Asia Sea a place where we are not fighting every day - not fighting on the strict sense of the word, but having concerns, military concerns for the security of navigation?

Are we going to apply the international rules, the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention there? How inclusive will the prosperity of the Indo-Pacific be? Some of these countries still have problems, strong problems of poverty, our development aid is mainly focused on balancing the consequences for growth, to make it more inclusive. The parameters of the social equilibrium in these countries will also be a part of the results that we will be looking for and can be a good way of measuring the results of our Strategy.

On connectivity, we have just signed an air transportation agreement with ASEAN, which is one of the most important that we have signed. We need to increase the connectivity with this part of the world, not just physical connectivity, but digital connectivity. It is quite weak at the moment and there is a lot to do. Let us see in the future how many people, how many bytes of information, how many links are we able to build amongst us.

About the second question, let us not dramatise. Let us not put into question everything. Certainly, as I said, we were not informed, we were not aware. We would like to be more aware of what this deal means. We regret not having been informed, not having been part of these talks. But time will come in order to be more aware of what it does means, but do not dramatise, do not put into question our relationship with the United States that has been improving a lot with the new administration.

Q. You mentioned that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is about cooperation, not confrontation, but surely when you cooperate with certain parts of the region, which is having so much geopolitical tension, you would unavoidably upset others. Take, for example, the South China Sea. You know, the German frigate Bayern has been denied entry to Shanghai by the Chinese authorities. And on the issue of Taiwan, if I am not mistaken, the Strategy also mentioned deepening ties between the European Union and Taiwan. How do you make sure that this sort of cooperation, naval cooperation with Southeast Asia or trade cooperation with Taiwan would not upset China? And secondly, can you give us more ideas about how you foresee the future relationship between the European Union and the Quad group [Quadrilateral Security Dialogue], which is composed, of course, of the United States and also Australia, which are having so much trouble with France now? It is mentioned in the Strategy that there would be more cooperation with court. Do you still think that is possible?

Yes, I think it is still possible. Certainly, it is still possible. We need cooperation with everybody, why not with the Quad? Certainly, we will have to cooperate with them and, certainly, things are not easy, and you are right on saying that it will be a delicate balance between our relationship with ones and the others, with our naval presence that can be seen with good eyes by someone and with less good eyes by others.

But, in general, I repeat, my feeling is that our partners in the region view the European Union as an actor trusted, consistent and reliable. We are the most important investor, do not forget it. Twice the United States, our flow of investment to the region is twice the United States’ one. We are the leading provider of development cooperation.

I think we have important assets; we have important assets to bring to this cooperation. Certainly, it will be difficult at certain moments to look for a good balance, but this is our will and that is why we set up this Strategy, which, once again, is not a Strategy for confrontation, it is a Strategy for cooperation. Pursuing common goals and facing common challenges along these seven lines of action. And this goes further than any specific event. This ship that was not entering a port, this is – if I can say it – an anecdote. The important thing is the long-term perspective, the will that brings us to present this Strategy and our capacity of acting accordingly with what we are being considered by many actors in the region: a trusted, consistent and reliable partner.

Link to the video:

Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0) 2 29 88093
+32 (0) 460 79 52 44
Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)2 29 73582
+32 (0)460 75 51 56