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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has enhanced EU’s resolve to act in Indo-Pacific, says top diplomat Gabriele Visentin

“What brings me here is actually a step up in the relations with India in terms of involvement of India in terms of implementation of the EU strategy on the Indo-Pacific,” EU Special Envoy for the Indo-Pacific Gabriele Visentin said in Delhi

EU Special Envoy for the Indo-Pacific Gabriele Visentin who is in Delhi has said that war in Ukraine “does not reduce the resolution of the EU to act in the Indo-pacific”. During his India visit, the envoy met Secretary West Sanjay Verma, Joint Secretary Indo Pacific Geetika Srivastava, Joint Secretary Sumit Seth, and envoys of all EU countries on the grouping’s role in the region and the implication of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to Zee Media’s Sidhant Sibal, Visentin said, “price tag has been shown” for breaking of international order with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what is seen is a “big neighbour attacking a smaller neighbour in an unprovoked way, not respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state.” In February, France and the EU co-hosted a foreign ministers’ meeting on the Indo Pacific. 

Q: What is your key focus during the Delhi visit?

A: What brings me here is actually a step up in the relations with India in terms of involvement of India in terms of implementation of the EU strategy on the Indo-Pacific. So, my visit here is not only aimed at a political level, and a comparison of note on the current situation but also to implement the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, both bilaterally and regionally.

Q: What is EU strategy on Indo Pacific, what is it all about?

A: The term Indo-Pacific, was born in India in 2007. It was first raised in the speech by PM Abe in front of the Indian Parliament. The notion of the Indo-Pacific was born in India. Already this is a great alignment, some people refer to the region as Asia-Pacific. We both refer to it as the Indo-Pacific. EU strategy for cooperation in Indo-Pacific aims at strengthening and reinforcing the current and ongoing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. It is structured along 7 themes, all of which have very high importance to India. We have a theme that talks about economic development and trade, 2nd theme on climate change and the fight against its impact, 3rd, cooperation on security and defence, human security which is all about fighting against the pandemic, then ocean governance involving pollution and illegal fishing and illegal smuggling and law enforcement. Its overall strategy encompasses all possible fields of interest in the area and in India itself. The biggest is the chapter on connectivity. The real backbone of the strategy is connectivity and implementation of the connectivity chapter is really at the heart of our policy for India and the region.

Q: Any practical cooperation by the EU in the region?

A: It is a bit too early to identify concrete projects. We are still in the phase of agreeing on the terms of cooperation. The EU has specified its concept of connectivity, through a policy initiative called global gateways, published towards the end of the year. India is one of 2 countries with which the EU has a connectivity partnership. The implementation of the global gateway and connectivity partnership will pass through the identification of projects but we are aligned on the philosophy. The philosophy of the EU’s way of connectivity and India’s way of understanding connectivity is that projects should be based on their bankability or financial sustainability in the long term. It means that the financing will be a blend of public-private funds, involvement of financial institutions, and a mix of loans and grants. Connectivity must be in the interest of the recipient country and based on the long-term sustainability of debt. India, EU’s idea of connectivity is that connectivity should create links and not dependency.  

Q: Ukraine crisis has been the biggest worry; will it impact the EU’s focus on Indo-Pacific?

A: This is not a crisis, this is a drama going on. For the first time in 75 years, war has touched European soil. This is something we all stood against and this paradoxically does not reduce the resolution of the EU to act in the Indo pacific. It enhances the EU’s resolve to act worldwide. What is happening there resonates all over the world.  What is seen there is a big neighbour attacking a smaller neighbour in an unprovoked way, not respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state. This is all in a total breach of the UN charter, the international rules-based order. Breach of the rules, we all gave to each other to live peacefully. We can’t pretend nothing has happened. This is something that will reinforce our resolve to act even more in the Indo-Pacific and this has found attention from the Indian authorities during my talks.

Q: Do you see a Ukraine-like situation erupting in Asia, and if yes, what can the EU do?

A: For the time being nothing like that has happened and for the time being we have no signs that something like this can happen. Should this happen, anyhow the western world and western democracies, liberal democracies have shown that they can unite together to counteract this. The answer that EU and its member states, like-minded countries have given worldwide amid the Ukraine war is exemplary, what it means to breach the UN charter.

Q: You haven’t taken the name of one country in Asia, but you have indicated bigger countries chipping away territory of smaller countries. How big is that worry for Europe?

A: It’s not a worry, you need to be ready for whatever the future might bring. Actually, something on which we all agree, is to show the price tag of breaking the international rules-based order. I think the price tag has been shown. There are no worries or targets for anything but an indication of the fact that democracies can work, deliver and unite themselves when need be.

Q: What are your expectations from the Indian side of the Indo-Pacific? India has been the torchbearer of the vision.

A: I would not talk about expectation but joining force. India is the biggest democracy in the world, the biggest regional power, both military and economic – so it is not a matter of expectation but a matter of cooperation and joining forces. My presence here shows we want to engage more and more with India in order to really cooperate more in every possible aspect. There are tangible cooperation ideas, on connectivity, on defense undertaking EU military missions in the Indian ocean or fighting climate change, or capacity building on law enforcement that will promote multilateralism, for example UNCLOS. I would really like to stress, we found ourselves aligned on the will to cooperate more. 

Q: Are you planning a big-ticket event, for example, the France event.

A: The Indo pacific meet was co-organized by EU and France, so it was an EU event as well. We consider it a major step toward integrating the EU with the Indo-Pacific. In Paris, we had all the ministers of the EU, plus more than 30 foreign ministers from the Indo-Pacific. They all got together and found ways to further the cooperation. This is important, and we do plan to continue this path and major events will be organized by the incoming presidency, we are in contact with the Czech, Swedish and Spanish presidencies so that IndoPacific remains the center of EU attention which has been an integral part of the bloc. 

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