EU leaders said on Thursday that the Union wants to become a bigger actor in Asia, which they termed a “theatre of tensions,” warning of an increasingly assertive China even as they called on Beijing to defend the multilateral global order. They also welcomed Japan’s participation in measures against Russia, including sanctions.
The call came in a joint news conference in Tokyo after an EU-Japan summit featuring European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, European Council head Charles Michel and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. It also came a day after Beijing warned the summit not to “speak ill” of China.
The trio said they would keep up talks on ways to maximise their partnership to tackle Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, in areas such as energy as well as aid, joining in a statement to call for the immediate cessation of hostilities.
Today we have taken important steps forward to strengthen our relations.
First, we are launching an EU-Japan Digital Partnership.
The first of its kind. Because leadership in this field is key to our competitiveness and security
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) May 12, 2022
Both EU officials, in Japan for the latest in a series of annual talks, also said they were aware that regional tensions existed in Asia as well, and that the EU wanted – and needed – to take on a bigger role.
“The Indo-Pacific is a thriving region. It is also a theatre of tensions,” Ms von der Leyen said. “Take the situation in the East and South China Sea and the constant threat of the DPRK (North Korea).”
“The EU wants to take a more active role in the Indo-Pacific. We want to take more responsibility in a region that is so vital to our prosperity,” she added.
China becoming more assertive
“Our cooperation in Ukraine is critical but it is also important in the Indo-Pacific, and we also want to deepen our consultation on a more assertive China,” Mr Michel said. “We believe that China must stand up to defend the multilateral system that it has benefited from.”
The meeting came a day after China said that while a strong EU-Japan relationship was beneficial, it should not go too far.
Both Michel and von der Leyen also welcomed Japan’s participation in measures against Russia, including sanctions. Tokyo has joined the EU and Group of Seven nations in imposing trade sanctions on Russia that have cramped Moscow’s ability to export its oil and gas.
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