EU charts third way in ties with US, China

Brussels, Mar 12 (Reuters):
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first videoconference with European Union foreign ministers last month was so good humoured that some diplomats in Europe described it as a ‘love fest’.
Their reticence is partly due to an unwillingness to commit to anything until Washington spells out more fully its China policy under President Joe Biden. But French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to India in April to develop the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, and the EU aims to hold a summit with India this year.
France, which has 1.8 million citizens in Pacific overseas territories, has about 4,000 troops in the region, plus navy ships and patrol boats.
‘The Indo-Pacific is the cornerstone of Europe’s geopolitical path,’ said a French diplomat. ‘There’s no alternative.’
But the ministers were also cautious because the EU is looking for a strategic balance in relations with Beijing and Washington that ensures the bloc is not so closely allied with one of the world’s two big powers that it alienates the other.
The EU also hopes to have enough independence from Washington and Beijing to be able on its own to deepen ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific region such as India, Japan and Australia, EU officials said.
But the EU is hungry for new trade and sees the Indo-Pacific as offering huge potential. The EU has a trade deal with Japan and is negotiating one with Australia. Diplomats say countries in the Indo-Pacific want the EU to be more active in the region to keep trade free and open, and to ensure they are not left facing a straight choice between Beijing and Washington.
France committed to closer ties with allies such as Australia and India with an Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018, followed by the Netherlands, which also has its own strategy, and Germany’s looser set of ‘guidelines’.
The EU strategy, if agreed, could involve putting more EU military experts in EU diplomatic missions in Asia, training coast guards and sending more EU military personnel to serve on Australian ships patrolling in the Indian Ocean, diplomats said.

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