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A Transatlantic Agenda for the Indo-Pacific: Convergence and Credibility

14 January 2019

Institut Montaigne and Carnegie held on January 14 a very rare track 1,5 event on Indo-Pacific issues, combining top officials and experts from Europe and the United States (the event was held under Chatham House rules). Top Asia policy officials from the United States do not often cross the Atlantic, and even more rarely hold meetings that are not exclusively with their direct counterparts.

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In these days where transatlantic relations are often strained, the degree of convergence was strikingly high, with China as a unifying factor. It is often said that China policy is an area where the Trump administration has demonstrated continuity and cohesion, and in fact where there is something that approaches a bipartisan consensus. The EU has been able to muster important defensive measures in the past two years, from the denial of market economy status to an investment screening regulation to be implemented shortly in 2019. 

Yet there were also doubts. Some of them are very familiar. What to make of the President’s tweets and of ultimate American intentions? The interrogation went both ways: would the President one day declare victory and end the challenge after marching like-minded partners on the path of confrontation? But equally, was the administration’s goal to achieve important changes from China, or more radically to block its way to further rise? Europe’s weak statements on many issues of value at the heart of European principles were mentioned: from the perennial Dalai Lama question to human rights, the concentration camps created in Xinjiang, relations with Taiwan, European coordination could have made China back off from the unpleasantness it applies to recalcitrant partners when they can be isolated. 

The on-going trade talks between the US and China could well result in a positive compromise. That, however, is unlikely to stop the open competition and in some cases confrontation that has started. The US will stand in the way of any imperial venture in the region. After a long period of growing disappointment with engagement, America has started a bold experiment to push back on major economic issues of the future, and it is now standing in the way of China’s imperial venture. In the Indo-Pacific, America was not creating a joint strategy or enforcing containment – but it sought regional initiatives around some agreed principles, including a law based order, rights of people and human dignity, open space at sea, in space and cyber, integration via connectivity projects. 

Europe – not a G3 superpower nor even in capacity to exercise strategic autonomy – nonetheless is an indispensable partner whose interests must be respected, including its dependence on international trade which is much larger than the United States’. 

The meeting focused on a number of areas where coordination among Europeans on policies. Mutual information and consultation with the United States are essential. China’s new era has reversed many of the previously held assumption, and both sides of the Atlantic are now facing up to the consequences. 

 

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