The EU wants a greater security role in the Pacific and will have no problem working with China in a region where Beijing has boosted its influence in recent years, the EU”s ambassador for the Pacific announced.
Speaking in the wake of Brexit, the EU’s ambassador for the Pacific, Sujiro Seam, told AFP he wanted the bloc to forge deeper trading ties and play a more active political role in the region.
Seam, who began his four-year term in September, said he aimed to change perceptions in the Pacific that the EU was primarily an aid donor which also helped out with humanitarian assistance when required.
“We are the largest free market in the world – we give the opportunity for Pacific island countries to access that free market through a series of economic partnership agreements,” he told AFP from Fiji, where he is based.
Part of what Seam described as a “re-balance” in EU-Pacific relations is an ambition for increased military and security cooperation.
“I would like the European Union to play a more prominent political role, and of course a strategic political role comes with credibility,” he said.
“Credibility derives from our power and strength, so we have to go into something with security and defence issues.”
Asked what form an EU military presence might take, Seam ruled out a “RAMSI-type operation”, referring to an Australian-led peacekeeping mission to the Solomon Islands that ran from 2003-17.
Instead, he said European forces could help in areas such as climate change mitigation, surveillance targeting illegal fishing, and disaster relief.
The EU does not have a military of its own, instead relying on contributions from its 27 member states.
The bloc’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, has called for greater cooperation, saying last week “we must relearn the language of power and conceive of Europe as a top-tier geo-strategic actor”.
Seam said it was likely to take some time for the results of such an approach to be seen in the Pacific.
The EU’s renewed interest in the Pacific comes after Australia, the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Japan have intensified diplomatic efforts in the region to counter China’s increasing profile.
“We are not against China… if there are opportunities to work with other partners, including China, we will try to seize them,” Seam said.
Seam said the EU shared the Pacific’s view that urgent action was needed on climate change.
But he played down the prospect of Europe accepting refugees from low-lying island nations threatened by rising seas.
“What we’ve observed in the countries with which we cooperate is a tendency to try to maintain their populations where they are… we will try to assist with that and increase resilience,” he said.