„No Proxies of Great Powers”

The EU seeks to forge an anti-China alliance at a meeting with riparian countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but encounters open opposition.

STOCKHOLM/BRUSSELS (Own report) – In its attempt to forge an anti-China alliance with the countries in Asia and the Pacific region, the EU is encountering open opposition. This has become evident at the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum convened by the EU held in Stockholm on Saturday. Thirty riparian states of the Indian and Pacific Oceans were invited – China was excluded. Referring to the EU’s anti-Chinese intentions, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi declared that the Southeast Asian nations “are not interested in being part of a new Cold War.” Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, opposed attempts to divide the world “into various blocs.” Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, criticized the growing economic isolation of the western powers and called for greater respect for the norms of the global “rules-based” trading system. In opposition to a unilateral world dominated by the West, India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, insisted on multipolarity. The EU snubbed its invitees, with 13 of its foreign ministers skipping the meeting – Annalena Baerbock was among the absentees.

“Rivalry Everywhere”

Already at a meeting in Stockholm on Friday, EU foreign ministers examined a refocusing of the EU’s foreign policy, based on a strategy paper presented by EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell. It envisages a significant escalation of the confrontation with Beijing. While the triptych “partner, competitor and systemic rival” has, until now, always been invoked, suggesting a relatively equal significance of business cooperation, economic competition and political power struggle, Borrell’s paper states, that “systemic rivalry is likely to be evident in virtually all fields of cooperation.”[1] Therefore, cooperation must be substantially reduced – under the pretext of “minimizing risks.” However, within the EU, there is still no consensus on the paper. According to reports, remarks made by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock suggest that she could envision sweeping sanctions against China,” whereas Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis speculated aloud on economic “decoupling” from the People’s Republic.[2] However, there were also voices saying the contrary, such as Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos, who called China a “great partner.”

One-Half Skipped

In addition to escalating its China policy, the EU had convened the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum on Saturday in Stockholm and invited 30 foreign ministers of East Africa, Asia and the Pacific region to attend. China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who, on Friday, had been visiting Sweden’s neighboring Norway was explicitly not invited. The EU Forum in the Swedish capital was aimed at binding the riparian countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans closer to the West, to find allies in the power struggles against, not only China but also against Russia. The focus would not only be on “building more sustainable and inclusive prosperity together,” but also jointly “facing the evolving security landscape in the Indo-Pacific,” according to preliminary reports in Brussels.[3] The participants included the foreign ministers from India, Pakistan, Japan, Singapore and the Comoros, which currently chairs the African Union (AU). The EU, which had gathered the foreign ministers of almost all its member countries in Stockholm just the day before, was represented by only 14 of its 27 ministers, a vivid demonstration of the significance the EU actually attaches to the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was among the absentees.

On a Crusade

In Stockholm, the EU made no progress in its efforts to pit the riparian countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans against Russia. Borrell claimed that “the purpose was not to convince the non-European participants of “an anti-Russian course.” “We are not on a crusade.”[4] However, that the exact opposite is the case, can be seen in the fact that the EU had invited Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on short notice and to the surprise of the Asian-Pacific participants. This bestowed much attention to the war in Ukraine, according to reports. But the reactions were clearly reserved. Some of the Asian foreign ministers were quoted to have said that while they sympathize with Ukraine, they call for an immediate end to the combat, in full agreement with China, and in diametrical opposition to the West, which is doing its best to fuel Ukraine’s spring offensive. Comoro’s foreign minister had responded accordingly in the name of the AU. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar declared that “percolation of conflict is never the answer,” which is why her country wants “an end to hostilities and then to conflict.” Only Japan’s foreign minister offensively sided with the West.

“No Blocks”

The EU also made no progress in its attempts to get the countries attending in Stockholm to openly take a stand against China. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar declared that her country rejects the division of the world “into various blocs.”[5] Several other ministers confirmed this and made it clear that they were also unwilling to join the power struggle against the People’s Republic on the side of the West. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Mausudi, whose country holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, reported that the ASEAN group of nations rejects the prospect of the Asian-Pacific region becoming “another theatre of rivalries.” “We are not interested in being part of a new Cold War, or to be proxies of great powers,” confirmed the minister. “The Indo Pacific pie is too big to be enjoyed only by a few.” Already last year, Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani, had disagreed with the West on the conflict over Taiwan, and agreed with China. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) This had enabled him to win the chairmanship of the AU against the much more powerful opponent, Kenya. Currently, Nairobi is leaning Westward.

“Overlapping Circles of Friends”

Implicit, but clear criticism of the West’s approach was voiced in Stockholm by the foreign ministers of Singapore and India. This is also significant, because, the Western powers, particularly in their power struggle against China, are placing great importance on both countries’ cooperation. At the EU Indo-Pacific Forum, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan explained that Southeast Asia’s “organizational principle” is to keep the region “open,” and “inclusive” – particularly to keep our region open “to China, the US, EU and indeed any other power that wishes to invest,” or engage otherwise in business.[7] Southeast Asia does not “draw lines,” but has “overlapping circles of friends,” which differs it from the EU. Balakrishnan echoed the West’s insistence on a “rules-based trading system.” Singapore draws its prosperity primarily from its role as a trading hub. From Balakrishnan’s statement, it is apparent that he perceives the threat to the rules-based trade as emanating primarily from the West. It is, for example, detrimental, when nations prioritize their national security concerns, or the resurgence of industrial policy. Both characterize the policies of the West in their power struggles against Russia and China. Balakrishnan warns that the West abandoning the globalization consensus is fatal for countries like Singapore.

“Appreciation for Multipolarity”

India’s Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jalshankar, also voiced implicit but unambiguous criticism. India continues to cooperate with Western powers, to position itself as an Asian counterpart to China. As Jalshankar’s statement in Stockholm confirms. However, India remains opposed to reducing or even halting its cooperation with Moscow. If the EU wishes to cooperate with the riparian countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it needs “regular, comprehensive and candid” talks, Jalshankar stressed, and not just limited to the crisis of the day.[8] India’s foreign minister also pointed out that a “generous” and strategic approach that caters to “economic asymmetries” would surely enhance the EU’s appeal. In all this, it means particularly developing “appreciation of multipolarity.” And, “a multipolar world,” is feasible only by a “multipolar Asia.” This position statement thus contains a clear rejection of a unipolar world, wherein the West attempts to defend its global dominance with as many international allies as possible against such emerging powers, as China.


[1], [2] Thomas Gutschker: Nicht auf einer Linie gegenüber Peking. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 13.05.2023.

[3] EU Indo-Pacific Forum Stockholm 2023. eeas.europa.eu.

[4], [5] Finbarr Bermingham: ‘Let’s not divide into blocs’: EU faces pushback from Indo-Pacific on Ukraine. scmp.com 14.05.2023.

[6] See also In Ostafrika gegen China.

[7] Visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan to Stockholm, Sweden, 12 to 14 May 2023. mfa.gov.sg 14.05.2023.

[8] EU, Indo-Pacific need regular comprehensive and candid dialogue: Jaishankar. aninews.in 13.05.2023.