The Indo-Pacific region

A container ship in China

The Indo-Pacific region, © CFOTO

22.09.2023 - Article

With the rise of Asia, the political and economic balance is increasingly shifting towards the Indo-Pacific. This region is becoming the key to shaping the international order in the twenty-first century.

The significance of the Indo-Pacific

The dynamic changes that have taken place in the Indo-Pacific region in recent years affect Germany and Europe, too – in terms of trade, climate and security policy.

With China, Japan and the US, the world’s three largest economies have Pacific coastlines. Almost 60 percent of global GDP and two thirds of global growth are generated in the Indo-Pacific. As much as 25 percent of international maritime trade passes through the Strait of Malacca alone; if these maritime trade routes were to be impeded, the effects on supply chains to and from Europe and thus on Europeans’ prosperity and access to vital goods would be severe.

The Indo-Pacific region is home to around 60 percent of the global population and 20 of the world’s 33 megacities; it is also the source of more than half of all global carbon emissions. This makes the region’s countries key players in tackling global challenges such as the climate crisis.

The balance of power in the region is also shifting as a result of this dynamic. China’s political and economic ascent poses a challenge to the established powers. The US is increasingly moving its strategic focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific region. Arms spending in this region rose more quickly than anywhere else in the world over the last decade, and now makes up just under 30 percent of global spending. At the same time, the region lacks effective structures for cooperative security and mechanisms to contain conflict.

Geopolitical rivalries, border disputes and simmering domestic and cross-border conflicts put the region at risk of instability. This is exacerbated by refugee flows and regional and international terrorist networks.

Germany’s interests in the Indo-Pacific

As a nation that trades around the world, Germany has a significant interest in maintaining and supporting stability, prosperity and freedom in the countries of the Indo-Pacific. More than 20 percent of German trade is conducted in this region. The EU’s member states are among its biggest investors.

Germany is committed to strengthening the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region, to ensure that it remains a place of inclusive cooperation. Germany therefore advocates open shipping routes, open markets and free trade, a level playing field, digitalisation, connectivity and human rights.

Developments in the region will also be a deciding factor in whether it is possible to achieve the Paris climate goals and curb climate change. Germany thus has an interest in cooperating with the countries of the Indo-Pacific in order to protect our planet, while also supporting these countries in mitigating the potentially deadly effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels.

Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy

To effectively pursue its interests in the Indo-Pacific, Germany has adopted an approach of long-term political engagement with the region. The German Government Policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific, adopted in September 2020, serve to guide its strategy. Tangible progress had already been made a year on from the publication of the guidelines, as described in the September 2021 progress report. In view of the challenges facing Europe, the German Government in its second progress report – issued in September 2022 – underscored its intention to continue implementing its policy for the Indo-Pacific and to further broaden its ties with the region. In its third progress report, which was published in September 2023, the German Government describes how it has strengthened the full range of its Indo-Pacific relations.

The core principles of Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy are the strengthening of European action, of multilateralism, of a rules-based international order and of human rights, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The policy guidelines constitute an invitation to all of the region’s countries to expand and deepen their cooperation with Germany. It is in this spirit of inclusivity that Germany sees a role for itself in the Indo-Pacific; at the same time, it is keen to ensure that no countries are shut out. However, inclusivity does not mean equidistance from the major powers in the competition of systems. Germany stands up for its principles and is ready and willing to strengthen them together with like-minded partners.

EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

The overarching guiding principle of German policy on the Indo-Pacific is concerted European action. Europe’s shared interests and values can best be asserted and upheld with the weight of a united Europe behind them. Germany thus worked with France and the Netherlands to campaign for a single European strategy in the region. The EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific was published on 16 September 2021.

The EU Strategy follows a very similar approach to the German Government policy guidelines. The guiding principles are effective, values-based multilateral cooperation; a level playing field for fair competition; sustainability goals, climate change mitigation and biodiversity; multilateral and regional cooperation; and support for human rights and democracy.

The EU Strategy sets out seven priority areas for action, which are primarily aligned with the European Union’s competences: sustainable and inclusive prosperity; green transition; ocean governance; digital governance and partnerships; connectivity with the EU initiative Global Gateway; security and defence; and human security.

To implement the individual initiatives within the various priority areas, the EU is relying in part on cooperation with its member states. It aims to pool its own abilities and those of its member states in order to achieve the best possible results as “Team Europe”.


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