EU forum puts crucial Indo-Pacific region squarely on radar

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, right, discuss as they attend the Indo-Pacific Ministerial Cooperation Forum as part of the French EU Council Presidency in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (Christophe Archambault / Pool photo via AP)

PARIS – Foreign ministers from Indo-Pacific nations attended a Paris conference Tuesday aimed at bringing the region, an important partner for trade and exports, squarely into Europe’s focus in a rapidly changing world with rising security challenges.

New Zealand, India, South Korea, Japan and a clutch of other Asian nations were represented at the forum. China was not invited.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed that China was not being slighted, and EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell noted the long-standing “dedicated dialogue” between the EU and China.

“The Indo-Pacific strategy ... is not an anti-China strategy. This strategy is not against anyone,” Le Drian said at a closing news conference. “It is a strategy for partnership development between the Indo-Pacific and the European Union.”

Le Drian listed “concrete projects” that he said were planned or underway, from tackling climate change to health, but also security concerns.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the region an “aorta” for Europe with 40% of the EU’s trade passing through the region’s waters.

“That’s why we need freedom of navigation ... a security architecture that we have to build together,” Borrell said.

He announced a just-launched coordinated maritime presence with the region’s navies.

It is “not a military alliance, not against anyone. It’s a way of enhancing our presence and coordinating our means among the member states in order to be more able to act,” he said, without further elaboration.

Le Drian acknowledged concern over an emerging alliance between Russia and China “which is clearly defying the multilateral order.”

“And that was another reason for us to engage more in the Indo-Pacific,” the French minister said.