The South China Sea is a crucial maritime corridor connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans, a vital trade route with over $3 trillion in global trade passing through its waters annually. It is also rich in natural resources, including fish and hydrocarbons, making it an essential gateway for the European Union (EU) to engage in trade, energy security, and regional stability in the Asia-Pacific.
The EU, one of the world’s largest trading blocs, has economic interests beyond its borders, as approximately one-third of global trade passes through the South China Sea. Ensuring freedom of navigation and a rules-based order in these waters is of paramount importance to the EU. The South China Sea is also a critical source of raw materials and energy for Europe, and the potential disruption of supply chains and energy routes through this region could have severe consequences for the European economy.
The EU places great importance on upholding international law and multilateralism, calling for the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It has been actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to address the South China Sea issue, supporting multilateral mechanisms such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations in fostering dialogue and conflict resolution. Additionally, the EU has sought to strengthen partnerships with countries in the region, including ASEAN member states and China, to promote stability and security.
However, the EU faces significant challenges in pursuing its strategic interests in the South China Sea, including China’s assertiveness in the region and its territorial claims. The EU’s limited military presence in the Asia-Pacific complicates its ability to enforce security in the South China Sea, necessitating diplomatic means, partnerships, and alliances to achieve its objectives. Balancing economic interests, security concerns, and a commitment to international law will be key challenges for the EU in the coming years as it navigates the complex and dynamic landscape of the South China Sea.