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Enhancing EU and Indo-Pacific Cooperation

The EU and India have made significant steps in the past years to deepen their security and defense cooperation including on counter-terrorism, cyber and maritime security. The Indo-Pacific at large and the Indian Ocean in particular are key areas where this cooperation can be further enhanced.*

The EU strategy appreciates the Indo-Pacific as a region of great social and economic importance to European foreign policy. As the strategy specifies, the region is home to more than half of the world’s population, four of the EU’s ten-largest trade partners (China, Japan, South Korea, and India) and six G-20 members – seven if one wants to include Russia. Over half of global gross domestic product (GDP) is generated there, and trade between the EU and the Indo-Pacific, as defined by the strategy, is the highest inter-regional volume in the world. The EU focuses primarily on strengthening cooperation on low-hanging fruit such as ‘maritime security, malicious cyber activities, disinformation, as well as emerging and disruptive technologies, countering and improving resilience to terrorism, violent extremism and hybrid threats, countering organized crime and illicit trafficking’.

The Indo-Pacific and the European Union have the highest record of bilateral trade between regions, with the added presence of three of the world's largest economies: China, India, and Japan. The Straits of Malacca, Ombai, and Lombok are choke points that are difficult and expensive to circumvent, which renders these maritime supply routes vulnerable to great power rivalries, maritime territorial disputes, terrorism, piracy, and climate-related risks. Current Red Sea attacks exemplify how dependent Europe’s trade-intensive economy is on these strategic maritime passages. Furthermore, China’s nine-dash line maritime claim in the South China Sea could potentially restrict freedom of navigation, affecting 40 percent of the European Union’s trade.

Despite long standing bilateral and postcolonial ties between EU member states and Indo-Pacific nations, the European Union articulated its first official position on the region in 2016 with the publication of the European Union Global Strategy (EUGS). The EUGS recognizes the need to strengthen partnerships across the Indo-Pacific and East Asian regions to address common humanitarian, economic, and security challenges. Specifically, it highlights upholding international law, promoting democratic values and human rights, enhancing joint counterterrorism efforts, ensuring freedom of navigation, and safeguarding economic connectivity. Since 2019, the European Union has negotiated several trade agreements with the countries of Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea.*

There's a growing movement to strengthen cooperation between the European Union (EU) and the Indo-Pacific region. Here are some ways this partnership can be enhanced:

*Road to Schuman event in India: Dialogue on Enhancing EU India Defence and Security Cooperation, including in the Indo-Pacific region | EEAS. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2024, from 

*Road to Schuman event in India: Dialogue on Enhancing EU India Defence and Security Cooperation, including in the Indo-Pacific region | EEAS. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2024, from 

  • Free Trade Agreements (FTAs): The EU can pursue more FTAs with Indo-Pacific nations to boost trade and investment. This would create a win-win situation for both regions. Negotiating and implementing comprehensive trade agreements with key Indo-Pacific countries such as India, Japan, and ASEAN members.

  • Sustainable Supply Chains: The EU and Indo-Pacific countries can collaborate to establish sustainable supply chains that are ethical and environmentally responsible. Collaborating on diversifying supply chains to reduce dependency on single sources, ensuring stability and resilience in critical sectors.

  • Infrastructure Development: The EU can contribute its expertise and resources to develop infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific, promoting regional connectivity. Promoting investments in sustainable and digital infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific region, supported by EU funds and expertise. Supporting initiatives like the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy to enhance physical, digital, and people-to-people connectivity.

Security and Defense:

  • Joint Military Exercises:  The EU can conduct joint military exercises with Indo-Pacific nations to improve interoperability and address shared security threats like piracy and terrorism.

  • Maritime Security Cooperation: The EU can work with Indo-Pacific countries to ensure freedom of navigation and a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific waterways. Conducting joint maritime patrols and exercises to ensure freedom of navigation in critical sea lanes such as the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

  • Defense Technology Cooperation: Collaboration on developing and sharing defense technologies can strengthen the collective security of the EU and Indo-Pacific nations.

Other Areas of Cooperation:

  • Climate Change:  The EU and Indo-Pacific countries face similar challenges from climate change. They can partner on clean energy initiatives and disaster risk reduction strategies. Providing technical assistance and capacity-building support to Indo-Pacific countries to achieve sustainable development objectives.

  • Science and Technology:  Collaboration in research and development can lead to breakthroughs in various fields, benefiting both regions. Cultural Exchange:  Promoting cultural exchange programs and people-to-people interactions can foster greater understanding and cooperation. Student and Academic Exchanges: Expanding scholarship programs, academic exchanges, and joint research initiatives between EU and Indo-Pacific institutions. Cultural Diplomacy: Promoting cultural exchanges and collaborations through festivals, exhibitions, and people-to-people programs.


The European Union's increased involvement in the Indo-Pacific, fueled by the imperative to safeguard its economic and security interests, presents an opportunity for the bloc to fortify its global standing. Acting as a stabilizing force and upholding international law, the European Union can contribute to regional stability in the evolving geopolitical landscape, while deepening its alliance with the United States.

Strengthening EU-Indo-Pacific cooperation requires a comprehensive approach that addresses mutual interests and common challenges. By enhancing economic ties, ensuring security, fostering political dialogue, and promoting socio-cultural exchanges, the EU and Indo-Pacific countries can build a resilient and prosperous partnership.

Additional References 


  • Road to Schuman event in India: Dialogue on Enhancing EU India Defence and Security Cooperation, including in the Indo-Pacific region | EEAS. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2024, from 

The author of this article Divya Narvekar is a fellow with EICBI.


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