Jikko Alfonso Puzon, Research Manager, Stratbase ADR Institute
Much has been said about the Indo-Pacific in the contemporary geopolitical and strategic discourse. Although there are varying views about its definition and geographical scope, global powers have started to recognize its growing importance and role in shaping the international order.
For instance, the United States, Japan and Australia have integrated the concept of the Indo-Pacific into their regional engagement and strategic interests. Similarly, the European Union (EU) has also adopted an Indo-Pacific strategy to recalibrate its geopolitical outlook and establish a coordinated approach to the region.
These developments indicate a fundamental shift in the way states perceive the Indo-Pacific. It has now progressed from a purely geopolitical construct to a crucial component of various strategies and policies implemented around the world.
Other significant players have also stepped up their efforts to increase their presence in the Indo-Pacific. France, in particular, is actively pushing for a more robust European engagement in the region.
Recognizing the inextricable link between Europe and the Indo-Pacific, France identified the region as one of its main priorities. This was further emphasized in the updated Indo-Pacific strategy that it released earlier this year. In the 67-page document, France highlights its role as a stabilizing force, reaffirming its commitment to provide solutions to shared challenges in the region.
The current Indo-Pacific strategy of France is based on four major pillars: security and defense; economy, connectivity, research, and innovation; multilateralism and the rule of law; climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable management of oceans. The implementation of the strategy is expected to produce tangible results and contribute to maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
In the context of defense and security, France seeks to maintain an Indo-Pacific that is open and inclusive, free of coercion, and founded on multilateralism and international law. It has also underscored the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This vision continues to resonate with like-minded states in the region, particularly those looking beyond the US-China narrative.
In order to broaden its network and gain more visibility, France continues to maintain a balance between its military and non-military engagements. For instance, President Emmanuel Macron recently hinted at the possibility of reviving the trilateral dialogue between France, India and Australia to address emerging regional challenges, including those brought by China’s aggressive posturing.
France has also taken an active role in a number of regional organizations and security dialogues, such as the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM). As a development partner, it has also increased its engagement with the members of the ASEAN to foster cooperation, particularly on key priority areas such as maritime security, cybersecurity, climate change, and other non-traditional security challenges.
Although these initiatives and developments represent significant progress in the commitment of France to the region, much remains to be done. There are still gaps that need to be addressed in order for France to fully realize its vision of becoming an inclusive and stabilizing mediating power.
Given the convergence of strategies in the region, France must be firm and consistent in the implementation of its policies and initiatives in order to advance its strategic interests and remain relevant. In this sense, it should also continue to promote and support the efforts of the EU to integrate itself in multilateral frameworks in the region. This would allow France to effectively contribute to the promotion of a rules-based international order.
As for Southeast Asia, there are various opportunities for countries like the Philippines to contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. The Philippines could leverage its existing relationships with France and the EU to promote shared democratic values and collectively respond to emerging regional challenges.
Given the recurring issues in the West Philippine Sea, the defense establishments in the Philippines could also benefit from stronger cooperation with these key players. Intelligence sharing on maritime security, as well as joint drills and military interoperability, are some of the options that the country could explore.
Similar to France, the Philippines should also proactively support and participate in regional organizations and dialogues. By taking full advantage of these opportunities, the country would be able to pursue its strategic interests while also effectively positioning itself in the region.
Aside from its traditional allies and partners, the Philippines should consider the advantages of strengthening ties with other key players in the region. Alliances and partnerships are critical in navigating the Indo-Pacific, particularly for vulnerable states like the Philippines.
While the international security landscape is becoming more dynamic, it is imperative for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his administration to seize the opportunity to strengthen the country’s defense posture while also elevating the country’s role as a credible and reliable partner in the Indo-Pacific.
This article was originally published in philstar Global. Image Source: UNESCO/Christelle ALIX.