EU in the Pacific: New Ambassador to Seek Larger Security Role to Counter China

Written by | Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

The EU will seek a greater security role in the Pacific and will have no problem working with Beijing in a region where China has increased its influence in recent years, the recently appointed new EU’s ambassador for the Pacific, Sujiro Seam, said. Seam, who began his four-year term in September, told AFP he wanted the EU to forge deeper trading relations and play a more active political and security role in the region. Changing perceptions in the Pacific that the EU was primarily an aid donor, which also helped out with humanitarian assistance when required, was thus high on this agenda.
“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,” Seam said, speaking from Fiji, where he is based. Part of what he described as a “re-balance” in the EU’s relations with the Pacific nations is an ambition for increased security and military 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, adding that “credibility derives from our power and strength, so we have to go into something with security and defense issues.”
But Seam also ruled out a “RAMSI-type operation” – an Australian-led peacekeeping mission to the Solomon Islands that ran from 2003-17 – saying that European forces could instead help in areas such as climate change mitigation, surveillance targeting illegal fishing, and disaster relief. The EU’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”. To that end, Seam said it would likely take some time for such an approach in the Pacific to yield any tangible results. The EU’s renewed interest in the Pacific comes in the wake of intensified diplomatic efforts in the region by Australia, the United States, Britain, New Zealand and Japan designed to counter China’s increasing profile. But “we are not against China,” Seam noted, adding that “if there are opportunities to work with other partners, including China, we will try to seize them.”

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