Why Japan could be key to EU’s Indo-Pacific ambitions – CEPS


Cold and hard geopolitics is back in force and the EU has decided that it will not be sidelined.

The war in Ukraine cements this growing geopolitical role, but if it is to realize its full potential, the EU must refocus on the strategically vital Indo-Pacific region.

To do this, connectivity is its most promising foreign policy tool, as it fully harnesses the bloc’s phenomenal economic power. In the overcrowded Indo-Pacific, the EU must also strengthen multilateral coordination with its main partners, Japan in the lead.

A strong partnership between the EU and Japan can be the engine for maintaining and modernizing the liberal international order in the Indo-Pacific.

Together, Japan and the EU can promote the global digital transition based on democratic principles. Digitization provides the foundational infrastructure to unlock innovation, growth and development in key global challenges beyond the digital sector, from green transition to improved public services. It is therefore crucial that digital interoperability in the Indo-Pacific is (re)founded on freedom, openness and human-centred design.

An EU-Japan TTC to streamline progress

The EU-Japan Strategic Partnership is based on joint geopolitical assessments and bilateral commitments – the 2019 Partnership for Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure (Connectivity Partnership), the 2021 EU-Japan Green Alliance and the Digital Partnership Japan-EU launched at the 2022 summit.

Digitization is a cornerstone of connectivity cooperation between the EU and Japan, as highlighted by the launch of their Digital Partnership in May 2022. Both countries are committed to promoting “digital transformation centered on people” based on their digital economies and their capacity for innovation.

Europe’s and Japan’s global leadership in strong personal data protection, as well as secure cross-border data flows, could be extended through joint investments in standalone data management solutions or cloud infrastructures that preserve privacy. confidentiality from trusted providers.

Operating on the local needs and priorities of partner countries and supported by the EU’s Global Gateway, these flagship initiatives offer a counterpoint to the Chinese model of data mining in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. To speed up implementation, maximize complementarities and promote interoperability should be a preferred strategy over the joint implementation of projects.

At the governance level, the EU and Japan should build on their e-dialogue to deepen existing governmental cooperation mechanisms by involving industrial, technical and educational actors. This would help expand capacity building in the area of ​​cyber diplomacy and make both nations – and their economies – more resilient to malicious actors.

To implement this approach and create a shared leadership forum, the two partners should establish an EU-Japan Trade and Technology Council (TTC), similar to the EU TTCs with the US (2021) and India (2022). Almost all the technology policy priorities of the EU-US TTC can also be found in the EU-Japan summit declaration: critical infrastructure and resilient supply chains, cybersecurity (including secure networks), fight against authoritarianism technological, surveillance and oppression, green digital and data infrastructures, and aligning safe and ethical approaches to AI.

Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by investing more in digital public infrastructure promoting access to education, financial inclusion, public services and green technologies, the TTC would allow both nations to take advantage of their role in advocating for the SDGs nationally and globally. They would do this by “mainstreaming” progress targets into new investments and projects in the Indo-Pacific.

This also includes improved use of AI datasets and capabilities for Earth observation, greenhouse gases and climate data. Through joint AI R&D initiatives, existing projects conducted by the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency could be paired and aligned. This would foster open access datasets and research mobility collaborations for high impact projects with an SDG component.

Both the EU and Japan have the credentials, expertise and convening power to be at the forefront of digital connectivity. To further maximize their impact, the EU and Japan must be ambitious and actively move from bilateral to multilateral leadership.

The EU in the Indo-Pacific – many partners, few friends

The EU has strengthened its relations with key players in the Indo-Pacific such as India and ASEAN states.

Japan did the same. Beyond the geographic and cultural proximity to Japan, these countries are at the heart of the region’s demographic and economic growth. Their growing political prominence in multilateral institutions interacts with acute development challenges – few have fully recovered from the pandemic and many are already bearing the brunt of climate change.

As important as it is for the EU to cooperate closely with the United States and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, it cannot avoid engaging ASEAN and India beyond purely business to gain influence. The obvious solution would be for Japan and the EU to join forces since the two already share strategic partnerships with these countries.

The EU’s multifaceted partnership with ASEAN – which has become strategic in 2020 – and the multilateral nature of the bloc make it a natural partner. The first ASEAN-EU summit on December 14, 2022 will be an opportunity for the EU to show that it can be a reliable partner in the region, beyond simple financial assistance.

ASEAN will also soon need to update its Connectivity Master Plan 2025, first adopted in 2016. Coordination with Japan to help shape a master plan that maximizes complementarities and promotes interoperability could bring enormous influence of the EU on the region’s long-term connectivity landscape.

A similar triangular approach should be taken with India recognizing its centrality in the Indo-Pacific and the global digital transition. India continues to have a special relationship with Japan, its other Quad member, and a contributor of large amounts of strategic development aid to India.

Beyond investment volumes, it is the way Japan deals with India that fosters local trust. It is now clear that Indian foreign policy will follow a balancing act between Russia and the EU. The EU can strengthen its trust and resilient ties with India by providing a blended connectivity offer, while fostering complementarities and fostering interoperability with Japan.

In short, digital cooperation between the EU and Japan is key to maintaining and modernizing the liberal international order in the Indo-Pacific. It is an opportunity that both powers must seize with enthusiasm.

Operationalizing this partnership through triangulation and more horizontal policy dialogue will be critical in countering the often opaque and undemocratic governance of broader digitalization and connectivity that has become more pervasive both in the region and across the world.

This CEPS expert commentary was written based on discussion of: A stronger partnership? An expert assessment of the latest EU-Japan summit


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