EU seeks bigger role in Asia’s ‘theater of tensions’

TOKYO — European Union (EU) leaders said on Thursday that the EU wants to become a bigger actor in Asia, which they termed a “theater of tensions,” as they warned of an increasingly assertive China.

After talks in Tokyo, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a joint news conference they would keep up talks on ways to maximize their partnership to tackle Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, in areas such as energy.

But Mr. Michel and Ms. Von der Leyen also said they were aware that regional tensions existed in Asia as well, and said the EU wanted to take on a bigger role.

“The Indo-Pacific is a thriving region. It is also a theater of tensions,” Ms. Von der Leyen said. “Take the situation in the East and South China Sea and the constant threat of the DPRK (North Korea).”

“The European Union wants to take a more active role in the Indo-Pacific. We want to take more responsibility in a region that is so vital to our prosperity.”

Both welcomed Japan’s participation in measures against Russia, including sanctions.

“We welcome the increasingly strong stance Japan is taking against Russia,” Ms. Von der Leyen said at the start of their talks.

Tokyo has joined the European Union and Group of Seven (G7) nations in imposing trade sanctions on Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation,” that have cramped Moscow’s ability to export its oil and gas.

But Japan is heavily reliant on energy imports, including purchases from Russia. Last week Mr. Kishida said Japan would “in principle” ban Russian oil but it has been more reluctant to disengage from some projects.

The three officials were meeting in the Japanese capital for an annual conference that was held online last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. — Reuters