most recent comments come against a backdrop of Australian government

The major global economies came together to put aside differences and coordinate policies to avoid the worst economic downturn since the great depression in the 1930s. That was in 2008 in the middle of the global financial crisis, half a lifetime ago. Yet the G20 and global economic cooperation were significantly absent during the much bigger health and economic crisis from the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth attend a reception on the sidelines of the G7 summit, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, Britain, 11 June 2021 (Photo: Jack Hill/Pool via Reuters).
With global cooperation and coordination the health crisis and economic downturn would have been much less severe. There was technical cooperation among health experts, starting with the rapid genomic sequencing of what became known as COVID-19, but countries restricted exports of personal protective equipment, food and medicines. The World Health Organization was hamstrung by geopolitics instead of backed in with the support it needed. The COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) program has done little to improve equitable distribution of vaccines.

Economic cooperation has been piecemeal and economic support largely provided bilaterally or regionally based on narrow self-interest or for geopolitical reasons. Countries that could afford fiscal stimulus failed to realise that without global macroeconomic coordination, the rest of the world couldn’t afford to put a floor on the economic downturn and support lockdowns.

Global cooperation has been one casualty of strategic competition between China and the United States.

The priorities for the global community are getting the world vaccinated and re-shaping global governance to ensure recovery is sustained.

Leaders of the Group of 7 advanced economies came together in the United Kingdom this weekend to push for comprehensive reform of the WTO, stronger action on climate change mitigation and improved vaccine distribution. The global trade rules are outdated and cover a smaller proportion of global commerce each year. Rules are needed for trade in services, investment and the digital economy, and disciplines are needed on subsidies to fisheries, agriculture and industry. The existing rules are currently not enforceable since the United States vetoed the appointment of new judges to the dispute settlement system.

The G7 finance ministers earlier agreed to move ahead with green finance that can help reshape financial markets to facilitate decarbonisation and the transition to cleaner energy. Under President Biden, the world’s largest economy is no longer in the way of global economic cooperation. We may look back at the summit in Cornwall as a turning point.

The G7 will not, however, fix the global governance deficit by themselves. These are by definition the established powers and even with Australia, India and South Korea as invited observers, the grouping is around half of the global economy. India has more in common with the emerging economies and the rest of the world than the group gathered in Cornwall, and prime minister Modi is unable to attend anyway because of the virus situation at home. The key will be for G7 members to lead by example, provide global public goods and shape outcomes in the G20 and multilaterally. British hosts of the G7 have coordinated closely with Italian hosts of the G20.

Less noticed but potentially more consequential is coordination happening on the other side of the world in New Zealand where APEC trade ministers met virtually last week.

The APEC grouping accounts for 61 per cent of the global economy and includes advanced and emerging economies. Its diversity in membership, including both established and rising powers, and its consensus building approach are a strength with strong leadership of its host and membership.

The practical and strategic joint statement by APEC trade ministers lays the groundwork for an interim leaders’ meeting in July before the summit later in the year. They proposed specific trade measures to respond to COVID-19 with agreement to reduce barriers to trade — of which there are many — in vaccines and their inputs along the supply chain, and work on protocols to resume cross border travel. They also called for comprehensive WTO reform, including protecting the existing system and updating the rules. The emphasis differs from the G7 approach and is inclusive of developing country interests.

One of those developing countries — Indonesia, not China — could be key to reform of global trade rules. Indonesia will host the G20 in 2022 at a time when global recovery from COVID will remain uncertain. As a democratic, dynamic developing country that is majority Muslim, Indonesia has a moral authority in global governance that it is yet to fully exercise. It is roughly half of the strategically important and economically large ten member Association of South East Asian Nations in economic size and population and chairs the Group of 33 developing countries in the WTO.

Indonesia put an initiative forward for WTO reform during Osaka’s G20 summit in 2019 but it was overshadowed by China-US rivalry and the hosts trying to keep then US President Trump from blowing up the summit. It will have another chance next year.

Britain was instrumental in the creation of global rules and institutions at Bretton Woods. Those rules served to protect Britain’s interest in the face of the then rising power, the United States, after the second world war. And they remain vital for protecting the interests of many smaller powers — now including Britain — in the face of the rise of China. We are watching the first efforts by Britain, post-Brexit, to act as ‘Global Britain’ and lead the G7 reform of global rules.

But global rules need global buy-in. As we move to a multipolar world, groupings like APEC can help build consensus but ultimately the G20 has the best chance at new rules for a post-COVID-19 global order.

Indonesia’s Balongan refinery, one of six operated by the state-owned oil firm Pertamina, contributes about 12 per cent of Indonesia’s petroleum refining capacity, or 125,000 barrels a day. The net profit margin of Balongan was some US$225 million in 2017, equivalent to about 4.3 per cent of Pertamina’s total profits.

An aerial picture shows smoke rising during a fire at Pertamina’s oil refinery in Balongan, Indramayu regency, West Java province, Indonesia, 31 March 2021 (Photo: Antara Foto/Dedhez Anggara/via Reuters).
It is therefore not an insignificant problem that the Balongan refinery has caught fire three times in recent years — in 2007, 2019 and most damagingly in March 2021. According to Pertamina, four of the refinery’s 72 tanks caught fire. Though three were mostly empty, one held a significant volume of oil. As a result of the small volume of oil in the tanks, the refinery and its surroundings were spared even greater damage than might otherwise have occurred.

Because of its technological sophistication and location, the Balongan refinery is strategically important to Indonesia’s economic activity, sustainability and energy security. With the most advanced technology, the Balongan refinery produces high-value oil products and reduces Indonesia’s dependency on imported refined oil products. The refinery’s complexity also enables it to produce a wide variety of oil products with relatively low carbon emission factors, contributing to sustainable development.

Balongan provides oil supplies for a geographical region home to Indonesia’s largest concentration of economic activity: the Jakarta capital region, Banten province and regions in West Java province. Pertamina was nevertheless able to resupply the region from elsewhere and claimed that fire in Balongan did not affect the supply of refined oil fuels in the region.

The latest fire at the Balongan refinery is still under investigation. Speculation has focused on possible causes including lightning strikes, human error and technology failure. Pertamina has formed an internal team and is cooperating with police. The fire has attracted attention from many parties. The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources sent oil and gas inspectors on location, while Indonesia’s Ombudsman conducted an investigation from the point of view of public service delivery.

A week after the incident, the House of Representatives committee responsible for overseeing energy visited Balongan. It delivered three notes regarding the accident. The first examined the proximity between a public road and the location the fire ignited — a potential safety risk for road users. The second considered the danger to residential dwellings. The third considered the need to improve the refinery’s security system.

The Balongan accident has had a major social impact on the surrounding community. More than a thousand people fled, thousands of homes were affected and dozens of people were injured. Four died after being directly affected by the fire.

The Balongan accident will likely affect the ongoing risk assessment of Pertamina’s other investments, such as its Petrochemical Complex in Balongan, a total investment worth about Rp 100 trillion (US$7 billion). This project is a joint investment between Pertamina and a Taiwanese investor, the China Petroleum Corporation. Also at Balongan, teams are preparing a Refinery Development Master Plan with capacity of 269 million barrels of oil per day and even more technological complexity than the existing Balongan refinery. The first phase of the project plan was set to be finalised in 2022, but the March 2021 fire may stymie investors’ hopes of Balongan becoming Asia’s leading refinery by 2025.

The recent fire has raised questions about the quality of governance in Indonesia and its link to safety. Balongan’s 2017 Sustainability Report indicated that Indonesia’s corporate governance performance declined between 2013 and 2017 from 96.6 per cent to 90.68 per cent. A report from the Ombudsman indicated that Pertamina has become less responsive to complaints from the surrounding community. On 28 March 2021, the day before the fire, locals had smelled a strong odour from the refinery, but Pertamina did not pay attention to residents’ complaints at that time.

Given its importance to Indonesia’s economy and its role in Indonesia’s future energy security ambitions, Balongan is an important national asset for Indonesia and must be secured against future losses from accidents. Unfortunately, no one has been able to reveal the cause of the refinery fire.

The Balongan fire needs to be investigated further with the results published transparently and disclosed to affected parties. Considering President Joko Widodo’s plan to develop six new oil refineries by 2024, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources must set up an independent team to explain the incident. The findings of an independent investigation should then form the basis for correction actions to enhance Pertamina’s health, environment, safety and security (HESS) standards in line with international best practice.

The Economist’s Democracy Index for 2020 has confirmed that Indonesia’s democracy is dwindling. The report gave the country its lowest score yet, casting doubt on Indonesia’s prospects for democratic consolidation. Academics and activists have voiced concerns that Indonesia’s democracy will further stagger in the near future, following a global trend of governments limiting political freedoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

University students protest against the government’s labor reforms bill, Jakarta, Indonesia, October 28, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)
The Indonesian government’s quick response to the report’s release outlined its ongoing commitment to strengthening democracy. Such claims are not new — democratic consolidation has been an explicit part of the government’s agenda since 2005, manifested in the National Long-Term Development Plan (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Panjang Nasional or RPJPN) and its derivatives, including the latest National Medium-Term Development Plan (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah Nasional).

Aligned with the agenda, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Development Planning have specific bodies to plan and monitor the progress of the country’s democratic development. The government also consistently evaluates its own democratic index and sets targets that it aims to meet in the years ahead.

At a glance, Indonesia’s commitment to democratic consolidation seems strong. For example, the government collaborates with the Election Supervisory Body and the National Police to prevent vote-buying and intimidation ahead of elections. A regional vulnerability index has been rolled out to monitor signs of electoral fraud, and government campaigns that encourage voting and monitor the fairness of elections are commonplace.

Unfortunately, the Indonesian government’s approach to democratic practice is too narrow. It takes more than focussing on elections and bureaucratic reform to consolidate a democracy. Sustaining a democracy in the long-term means establishing a system — both formally and informally — that is able to reinforce and defend itself against threats. Democratic habituation needs to go beyond the boundaries of polling booths and parliamentary halls, and must actively involve the domestic public.

The Indonesian public is largely excluded from policymaking processes. For example, the recent formulation of the Omnibus bill on job creation was drafted without significant public consultation, and with the National Police tasked with monitoring controversy and actively dissuading opposition to the bill. Protests following the bill’s ratification were met with repression. Further, the disbandment of the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam) has highlighted concerns regarding free speech, adding to the ongoing record of intimidation against those holding non-conforming views.

Unsurprisingly, such events have impacted people’s willingness to engage with politics outside of elections and to criticise the government — vital features of a strong democracy. In late September 2020, pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia found that 69.6 per cent of respondents agreed that people are becoming more fearful of voicing their opinions.

Modes of political education further reflect the government’s preference for a minimalist form of democracy, despite claims to the contrary. Political education programs are mostly emphasised close to election days and primarily oriented towards voting and running for elections. Less priority is given to ways in which the public can reach out to representatives or engage in policymaking and socialisation of bills.

This is compounded by the government implying that it knows best, and that dissent is mainly due to a lack of information on the part of the public. This is ironic as many government bodies have been found to stand at the middle and lower end of the scale when it comes to measuring openness to sharing information.

To habituate Indonesians to participate in a richer democracy, information must be more accessible to the public and the government must welcome active criticism. The Indonesian government has demonstrated that it is willing to work with civil society organisations that show support for its policy stances. This signals that the government is only interested in seeking validation and using consultation as a guise for legitimate public involvement and support.

For example, business associations were significantly involved during the deliberation of the Omnibus bill, while concerns voiced by labour unions and human rights defenders were largely dismissed — despite government claims that they were involved in the process. The government has also capitalised on brewing polarisation between segments of civil society and further spurred distrust among different camps, framing itself as the legitimate voice of reason.

Formally, the Indonesian government acknowledges the importance of an engaged civil society for the country’s democracy — the RPJPN explicitly articulates its goals of empowering civil society organisations and ensuring the protection of freedom of speech. The question lies in whether the government is willing to extend channels for policy dialogue to those with different political perspectives and drop the ‘support us or you’re against us’ dichotomy.

It’s time for the Indonesian government to start acting on the normative plans it has outlined in official documents and statements to demonstrate its commitment to democratic consolidation, particularly those relating to the wider democratic space outside elections. If it cannot do this, the Indonesian government will only be nurturing a hollow democracy while paying lip service to those hopeful for democratic improvement.

Recent comments made by Australian officials about Taiwan over the past few weeks are less statecraft and more reminiscent of a fictional account of the leadup to a Third World War.

Australian army officer offers directions to China’s President Xi as he inspects an honour guard at Government House, Canberra, Australia, 17 November 2014 (Photo: Reuters/David Gray)
During an ANZAC Day speech, the Secretary of the Australian Department of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo warned that ‘in a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat’. Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton similarly mused that conflict in the Taiwan Strait should not be discounted, stressing the preparedness of the Australian Defence Force in the event of a potential regional conflict. Meanwhile, Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie reminded military personnel that their ‘core business’ was the ‘application of lethal violence’.

These most recent comments come against a backdrop of Australian government statements and documents that consistently identify the Indo-Pacific as an arena of ‘greater strategic competition’ as the US–China rivalry gathers apace. Yet those very same comments predictably triggered another round of so-called ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’ from Chinese officials and commentators.

Chinese Major General Jin Yinan decried Australia as ‘white supremacist’ for lending moral support to Taiwan. The Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, claimed Australia was ‘sick’ and accused Canberra of ‘trying to muddy the waters on the Taiwan question’. It also warned that ‘if Australia uses force against China, China will definitely deal a heavy blow to Australia’. At a time when Washington has sought to engage Taiwan more closely, this was a clear warning to Canberra not to follow suit.

Australian politicians and strategic analysts need to prudently reflect on how best to manage the issue while considering the broader strategic context of a deteriorating regional security environment and fractious bilateral relations with Beijing. Yet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took things further after he appeared to confuse the one-China Policy with the ‘one country, two systems’ model in Hong Kong — a position he obstinately refused to correct.

Not only did Morrison’s comments emphatically contradict Australia’s official policy, but they also offended both sides of the political divide in Taiwan. After witnessing Hong Kong’s grim experience under the ‘one country, two systems’ model with the Chinese-backed national security law and subsequent crackdown on civil-society, Taiwan has come to categorically reject this formula with a new vigour. Morrison muddied the waters by sending out the wrong message on a highly sensitive issue for the region.

Observers should be alarmed at Prime Minister Morrison’s seeming incomprehension, especially given the stakes for regional stability and security. There is a consensus that any violent resolution of the Taiwan issue would be calamitous for the region, with Australian Chief of Defence Staff Angus Campbell declaring that the ‘future of China and Taiwan needs to be a future that is resolved peacefully’ and warning that any war would be ‘disastrous’ for all involved. This includes Australia, since any US military involvement would likely bring pressure upon Canberra to activate the ANZUS alliance treaty, and potentially drag in a range of US allies. The loss of life and economic costs would be catastrophic.

Still, there are ongoing questions about how Canberra can strike the right note on such a charged issue. While Australia is caught between principled support for a fellow democracy and the risks of supporting the United States and being entangled in an actual military crisis, it is difficult to see how Canberra’s recent tub-thumping rhetoric represents a coherent diplomatic posture.

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd contends that ‘the public language of Morrison, Dutton and Pezzullo on China, Taiwan and the possibility of war in the last week serves zero national security purpose’. Strategic scholar and former secretary of the Australian Department of Defence Hugh White argues that ‘[Australia’s] best interests would be served by urging [US President Joe Biden] to be cautious, and by being cautious ourselves’.

Perhaps it is best for Canberra not to make too much ‘noise’. Australia cannot on its own substantially affect a resolution of the situation in the Taiwan Strait through diplomacy. In order to avoid a nightmare scenario in the Pacific, Australian politicians should calm down their rhetoric while scrupulously communicating the need for dialogue and diplomacy aimed at a peaceful resolution of regional tensions.

At a time when Australia is reeling from Chinese economic coercion and accused of ‘sabotaging’ bilateral relations, adding more points of contention is not advisable. With China freezing several channels of communication with Canberra and conducting repeated incursions into Taiwanese airspace, the road ahead to persuade Beijing to take a more measured approach is already difficult enough without adding unnecessary obstacles.

Earth Day in 2021 marked a US return to the Paris Agreement by President Joe Biden’s administration, soon after his inauguration in January 2021.

A young climate activist holds a banner during a rally calling on policy makers to raise the target of greenhouse gas reduction outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, to mark the World Earth Day in Tokyo, Japan 22 April 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Androniki Christodoulou).
The return signals a reversal of the climate policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who showed little interest in climate change until 2020. Biden also announced that the United States would be hosting a digital climate change summit — The Leaders Summit on Climate — on Earth Day and called on world leaders to attend. The administration announced that it would set stricter greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for the year 2030 in the lead up to the Summit and urged other countries to do the same.

For years, Japan has been reluctant to set significant emission reduction targets, arguing that it has already achieved the highest possible level of energy efficiency and that any activities to further reduce emissions would burden the economy.

Japan’s first emission reduction target for 2030 — set in July 2015 — was to reduce emissions by 26 per cent by 2030 compared to 2013 levels. The 2013 base year was chosen because it was when Japan recorded its highest emissions since 1990. Choosing a high emissions base year set a low bar but allowed Japan to aim for a reduction percentage comparable to more ambitious other countries.

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The Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 set the long-term goal of holding the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. A report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 stated that global emissions needed to be reduced to net zero by 2050 to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Net zero means that all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions must be absorbed by natural ecosystems or other technological means.

The idea that countries should make an effort to reach net zero by 2050 rapidly spread around the world, with an increasing number of countries adopting this as a national target. But Japan was not one of them and its attitude towards environmental issues remained largely unchanged through the Trump administration.

Within Japan, an increasing number of private companies — as well as local governments — began to see how their global counterparts were voluntarily setting emission reduction and renewable energy targets, and started pressuring the national government to support such activities.

As Biden’s chances of securing the presidency increased in late 2020, concerns mounted in Japan that failure to set a 2050 net-zero target could see it left behind other industrialised countries. These pressures made it necessary for Japan to present its 2050 target.

In October 2020, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared that Japan would aim for carbon neutrality by 2050. When Biden announced that the United States would set its 2030 emission target by the Leaders Summit on Climate, Japan had to become more ambitious. As a result, the previous target of a 26 per cent reduction was modified to 46 per cent. This increase will be crucial for Japan to achieve its new 2050 target, but whether such drastic emissions reductions can be made in the next nine years remains unclear.

Notably, for the first time in Japan’s history, there has been a reversal of the order in which its emissions reduction target and national energy plans are formulated. Traditionally, Japan’s energy plans are discussed and finalised before any decisions are made about emissions reduction targets.

When energy plans are determined first, emissions reductions can only be adjusted relative to existing energy consumption — like through energy savings — and are therefore limited in their reduction potential. For example, the 2015 announcement of the 26 per cent reduction was based on an assumption that coal-fired power plants would still supply about 26 per cent of electricity in 2030.

For the first time, Japan has set emissions reduction targets before energy plans were determined. The new energy plan, still under debate at the time of writing, will prioritise the amount of renewable energy required by 2030 from the perspective of climate change mitigation policies.

What is common to Japan’s past is its tendency to follow US policy behaviour. Japan’s new 2030 target was determined less as a reflection of strong voices within Japan to pursue more ambitious environmental policies, and more as a consequence of normative pressures from the United States and wider international community.

In a bilateral summit meeting between Suga and Biden in April shortly before the Summit, the new US–Japan Climate Partnership was launched to facilitate greater bilateral environmental cooperation, but it is unclear how this partnership will directly connect with stakeholders in Japan. In order to provide a value-add, the US–Japan Climate Partnership should bolster mutually beneficial cooperation in fields where Japan can lead, like technological innovation towards greater emissions reductions.

Implementing Europe’s strategy for a stronger ‘strategic focus, presence and action’ in the Indo-Pacific will be difficult. EU policymakers face the herculean task of identifying core areas where the bloc can make a difference in the region while avoiding those where EU engagement would do more harm than good.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, attends the 22nd meeting by videoconference of leaders of China and the European Union (EU) in Brussels, Belgium, on June 22, 2020. China and the Union European (EU) reaffirmed this Monday (22) their commitment to conclude a comprehensive bilateral investment agreement in 2020 (22 June 2020, European Union/Handout / Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect)Germany, France and the Netherlands already have their own national Indo-Pacific strategies. As does the United Kingdom, now outside the European Union. Policymakers in Brussels hope that a collective EU strategy can augment national ones, and help the bloc strengthen its profile in the Indo-Pacific amid changing global power balances. The European Union is not content to watch great power politics from the sidelines.

Fleshing out the details of a more wholistic EU strategy for the Indo-Pacific will be difficult. Reconciling conflicting interests and ensuring coordination among EU member states to implement it will be even more challenging. A key issue will be finding a balance between the EU’s interest in expanding its economic presence in the region and its desire to support global democracy and human rights. In the interest of both Europe and Asia, EU engagement must avoid certain strategic pitfalls.

First, although neither China nor the United States are mentioned explicitly in the EU document, rivalry between the two countries looms large over the bloc’s approach to the Indo-Pacific. The headline goals of the new EU strategy, agreed by ministers on 19 April, highlight the ‘intense geopolitical competition’ underway in the region between the United States and China.

The European Union needs to recognise that to make a difference in the Indo-Pacific, it must work to lower the temperature, not add to it. The European Union can do so by encouraging a broader, more inclusive and nuanced conversation in the region that is not dominated by hard security ideas. This means continuing to resist pressure to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or to emulate its hard security stance and implicit anti-China bias.

The European Union, with its significant market and regulatory power, should focus on trade and investments, climate change, sustainable development goals and building digital connectivity networks.

Second, with its existing network of trade and investment agreements, the European Union should engage with existing efforts at economic integration in the Asia Pacific. This would mean, for instance, joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed in November 2020 or exploring entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. The bloc should seriously reflect on negotiating an EU–ASEAN free trade agreement, however daunting it may appear.

Third, while US–China rivalry grabs headlines, it would be a mistake to simplify or neglect the region’s other complex realities. The EU’s hopes of promoting values will also have to take account of the rising nationalism and populism in the region, with democracies coming under threat.

Fourth, the European Union should resist the temptation to over-romanticise its friends and over-vilify its competitors. Building a special relationship with India following the recent EU–India virtual summit or the new strategic partnership signed with ASEAN does not mean being blind to their weaknesses in dealing with serious governance challenges. While the EU’s embrace of India makes geopolitical sense to European policymakers looking to counterbalance China’s influence, the new strategy must not make the mistake of neglecting the opportunity to deepen Europe’s engagement with other South Asian countries.

Fifth, the European Union should resist the pressure to fall in line with the US framing of China as an ‘existential threat’. EU attitudes towards China are hardening following recent tit-for-tat sanctions over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang which have endangered the ratification of the EU–⁠China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment signed last year.

Still, China is vitally important for the European Union’s economic recovery and global climate change mitigation ambitions. While Washington foresees an uneasy relationship with China shaped by either ‘cooperative rivalry’, ‘managed competition’ or ‘competitive co-existence’, the focus in Brussels remains on dealing with China as a partner, competitor and systemic rival. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have warned against forming a united front against Beijing.

Sixth, the European Union can contribute to ongoing regulatory work in the region. Its connectivity blueprint could be an important contribution to the Indo-Pacific by providing norms and standards for infrastructure and digital projects. Brussels and Tokyo, which is pushing the idea of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, have already signed a connectivity partnership which they hope will provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. A similar connectivity agreement was reached with India. If well implemented, the bloc could use its considerable regulatory power — the so-called Brussels effect — to provide a blueprint for cooperative, sustainable ‘Blue Economy’ endeavours in the Indo-Pacific.

Competition for influence in the region is likely to get tougher. The US–China rivalry is intensifying, the United Kingdom is showing off its naval power and France is reasserting its status as a resident Indo-Pacific power. To stand out, the European Union must play to its strength as an economic power, not get caught up in unending US–China competition.