EUROPEAN FOREIGN POLICY SCORECARD 2015

Regional and global issues

52 - Relations with Asian partners on maritime security

Grade: C+
Unity 3/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 4/10
Total 9/20

The EU failed to play a mediating role in maritime disputes as member states sought to remain “neutral” to preserve their bilateral relations with China.

In 2014 the EU’s involvement in maritime disputes in Asia was limited. While the EU is a relatively non-controversial partner in the region, it failed to use this status and its experience of regional cooperation to try to defuse tensions between Asian neighbours. EU member states showed little interest in the situation and were unwilling to get involved on an issue on which China is extremely sensitive and on which, therefore, they think they have little to gain and much to lose. As a result, even as tensions in Asia increased, member states were mostly silent. When asked, they adhered to the EU’s official line of promoting a peaceful solution within the framework of international law, maintaining and ensuring freedom of navigation and trade in the region, and encouraging the implementation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea to avoid an escalation of tensions. The EU also identified ASEAN as the key to defusing tensions.

Europeans were careful not to take sides – with the exception of a rare statement in support of Vietnam in May after China moved an oil rig into Vietnamese waters.Following the Philippines’ call for international support, the EU simply reiterated its position that disputes should be resolved through international law. At the tenth ASEM meeting in Milan in October, growth and security were at the top of the agenda. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he looked forward to “reaffirming our joint responsibility for promoting peace and security in Asia and Europe”. But the summit produced very few results in terms of maritime security and mostly focused on uncontroversial issues. However, cooperation with Japan did increase in 2014. The EU and Japan held a summit in May and carried out a joint counter-piracy exercise in the Indian Ocean in October. Despite mounting tensions in Asia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK continued to sell arms to countries in the region other than China.