The Indo-Pacific region will be the principal theatre of engagement with India for both the UK and the EU. Not surprisingly, the UK and EU have almost identical language on their shared vision with India of “an open, free, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation and overflight in the international seas, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peaceful resolution of disputes”.
But, unlike the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands have full-fledged policies towards the Indo-Pacific. Three weeks prior to the India-EU summit, the EU launched its long-awaited new ‘Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific’ (on 16 April), for the geographical region stretching from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific Island States. This strategy sought to reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific region to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development, at a time of rising challenges and tensions. At last year’s India-EU summit in July 2020, a five-year roadmap was launched. In November 2018, the EU had launched its vision for an ambitious strategy to strengthen cooperation and its ‘strategic partnership’ with India (replacing its previous 2004 strategy towards India). Crucially, this recognised that India played an “important geopolitical role” in Asia, not just as a trade partner, although the Indo-Pacific region was left out of this strategy.