A new dynamic
After fence-sitting for several months with non-committal actions, the European Union has finally stepped forward to unveil its own Indo-Pacific strategy. Among other things, this new strategy envisions greater naval deployments by EU members in the Indo-Pacific while also working towards enhancing cooperation with countries in the region in the fields of health, data, infrastructure, trade and the environment. India, quite predictably, is key to the EU plan to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific with the plan specifically mentioning the implementation of the Connectivity Partnerships with India and Japan. The EU would be looking to, in particular, resume negotiations with India on trade and investment agreements while also looking to initiate cooperation in areas to support green and digital transformations of each other's economies. The plan also calls for the EU to seek a trade deal with Taiwan and deploy ships to keep the trade flowing in a move that is sure to antagonise Beijing. But there is more to this new plan than just the EU arriving late to someone else's party. It is important to note that this plan comes just days after the announcement of the US-led Aukus security pact and at a time when the EU is in discussions to come up with a European alternative to NATO. As may be known, under this new security deal, the US and the UK would provide Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines driven by propriety US nuclear propulsion technology. This deal greatly upset France as the country was previously set to supply Australia with French diesel submarines in a multi-billion dollar deal. Aside from the fact that France was economically snubbed with the new Aukus deal, it also emerged that France did not know its deal with Australia was cancelled until the day the alliance was announced. A furious France has withdrawn its ambassadors from the US and Australia in protest and even 'indefinitely postponed' a Franco-British defence summit. French officials have blamed Biden for acting much like Trump in completely ignoring the interests of France and the EU in the quest of fulfilling its own strategic needs. Weeks previously, the EU had restarted discussions of a European army to replace the American role of providing Europe with security following the disastrous pull-out of coalition forces from Afghanistan. While the circumstances may be new, this is all a part of the general discomfort that the EU has been feeling regarding its security arrangements with the US and how it fits into the world order that the American leadership is seeking. To those particularly inclined towards cynicism, these series of events signal that the spiderweb the US has spun around China is already fraying and that the actions of the EU are proof that the US method of using alliances to contain the rise of China is headed towards failure. But, of course, things are not that straightforward. While the EU is certainly not as enthusiastic as the UK or Australia to follow American directions in its relationship with China, it is not entirely backing down from America's plan to stop China with a bulwark of democracies. As proof, the new Indo-Pacific plan calls on the EU to engage with the Quad — a grouping that China unambiguously refers to as the Asian NATO — on issues of common interest though the wording in the plan indicates that the cooperation will not be militaristic in nature. Additionally, the EU signalling that it is seeking closer trade ties with Taiwan is also an indication that it is not necessarily afraid to ruffle Beijing's feathers in the quest to fulfil its own strategic tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. Still, EU leaders have taken the time to reiterate that the EU plan was "one of cooperation, not confrontation" with China. But this flip-flopping also means that the EU is not necessarily ready to jump into the flashpoint that is the Indo-Pacific with many analysts going so far as to say that the EU is nowhere near being a decisive actor in the region though it will now be seen as one of the many participants. In the meantime, jilted France is now seeking a deeper friendship with India as Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar agreed during a call for the two nations to work together to promote "a truly multilateral international order". The two sides also reportedly agreed to strengthen their strategic partnership in the region.