As geostrategic competition in the region heats up, the European Union is working to strengthen its presence in the Pacific through economic ties and new security commitments, according to the EU’s ambassador to Pacific Island nations on Tuesday.
During a visit to New Zealand, Ambassador Sujiro Seam told Reuters that the EU had long been seen as a development partner in the Pacific, but that it also wanted to be seen as an economic and strategic partner.
The EU’s push comes as major powers vie for influence in the region, with the US and Australia increasing their engagement in the Pacific following China’s signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands this year.
“The geostrategic importance of the Pacific is recognised by everyone, including the European Union,” Seam said.
The European Union has long had a presence in the Pacific, primarily through French Polynesia.
In 2021, the European Union announced a 300 billion euro ($305 billion) global infrastructure fund, which Seam said was helping to strengthen ties. more info
The EU is working on several development projects in the region and is looking into more, he said, adding that it is finalizing plans to spend 5 million euros on a feasibility study for a wharf on Kiribati’s Kiritimati Island.
“We’ve always said our position in the region is not against anybody. We’re not here to contain China,” Seam said.
However, when countries decide who to partner with, it is critical that they consider the consequences, such as whether they will receive development aid or loans.
“Most of the assistance from China actually … it’s loans. So that increases the debt vulnerability of these countries.”
According to Seam, providing economic opportunities is part of the EU’s strategy to increase its presence in the Pacific, and the EU has signed a number of trade agreements with Pacific governments and is negotiating a similar agreement with Tonga to allow it better access to European markets.
He also stated that the EU intended to expand its presence in maritime surveillance in the Indo-Pacific. In the past, the French military, which frequently has assets in the region, has been used to provide EU support.
($1 = 0.9843 euros)