This opinion-editorial by Dr Norbert Riedel, designated German Ambassador to Singapore, was published first by The Straits Times Singapore on 19 September 2020.
“We are sending a clear message today: the Indo-Pacific region is a priority of German foreign policy,” declared Foreign Minister Heiko Maas earlier this month as he announced Germany’s first ever policy guidelines for this part of the world.
Why is Germany coming out with such a framework, many have asked. Furthermore, how will it affect Germany’s interactions with countries in the Indo-Pacific?
To the first question, as Mr Maas explained in outlining Germany’s strategic interests, German prosperity and geopolitical influence in the coming decades will depend on how it works together with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region.
“Here, more than anywhere else is where the shape of the international rules-based order of tomorrow will be decided. We want to help shape that order – so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong.”
In pursuit of that goal, Germany will work towards strengthening the idea of a multipolar world in which no country has to decide between poles of power.
By working more rigorously with various countries of this region, Germany will continue to diversify its relations to avoid unilateral dependencies.
The security-policy sector plays a special role in this context, but Germany sees the scope of cooperation extending to other areas, such as the rule of law, human rights and cultural, educational and scientific exchanges. Digital transformation, technologies of the future as well as social discourse on free access to information and protection against misinformation are also areas with potential for greater engagement.
The decision to launch this foreign policy initiative is timely as Germany currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and seeks to promote a European Indo-Pacific strategy.
Germany’s new guidelines on the Indo-Pacific also opens a new chapter of cooperation with Asean member states.
Asean lies at the heart of a region that is of growing economic and political importance. At the same time, the strategic competition is increasing.
Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy guidelines have been largely inspired by the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. We share the view that the region is a space for inclusive cooperation and engagement, not containment. Moreover, the new policy framework comes at a time when Asean’s relations with both Germany and the EU are growing ever closer. It is hoped that by year’s end, the EU? will be able to form a Strategic Partnership with Asean.
Shifting geopolitical power structures in the Indo-Pacific have a direct impact on Germany and the EU at large. Our economies are closely connected through global supply chains. Major trading routes pass through the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific. If conflicts in the region arise, they would have immediate repercussions for us in Europe and Germany.
Open markets and free trade are as crucial for Germany as they are for Singapore. That importance can be seen in the rising share of the broader region, inclusive of South and East Asia, in Germany’s trade balance - it now amounts to over 20 per cent of its total trade in goods or just under 420 billion euro in 2019.
MULTILATERALISM AND RULES-BASED ORDER
A key driving principle in Germany’s Indo-Pacific guidelines is the importance of multilateralism. We believe that stronger political, economic and security policy networks lead to a reduction of unilateral dependencies and preserve both sovereignty and our ability to act - in short, a “free and active foreign policy”.
Multilateral agreements are also the most effective way to make progress in areas as diverse as environmental protection, rules-based trade, disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation, as well as the protection of human rights.
Germany is committed to the further integration of the Indo-Pacific region into multilateral organisations and fora such as the G20. In the coming years, Germany will also step up cooperation with Asean institutions and strengthen the role of the EU as a partner of Asean in close cooperation with its EU partners.
As a matter of principle, Germany is committed to safeguarding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. It supports a substantive and legally binding Code of Conduct between China and the Asean member states for the South China Sea, based on the principles of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas.
Germany also backs the monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea and offers its assistance in the mediation of regional conflicts with humanitarian implications.
To tackle the common challenge for the world’s climate, Germany intend to step up its cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific region in all aspects of climate policy, from adaptation to climate change, protection of biodiversity, to promoting renewable energies and energy efficiency.
Given Singapore’s role as a regional hub, Germany sees it as an essential partner for newly-launched initiatives in the Indo-Pacific region.
For example, we seek opportunities for cooperation in key technologies and advocate for their responsible use. An expanded cyber-security cooperation with Singapore will deepen our dialogue with partners with shared values.
A German Navy Officer has been seconded recently to the Singapore-based Information Fusion Centre for better coordinaton in maritime security and counter-piracy. We also aim to set up a regional German information centre in Singapore to help with the dissemination of fact-based information.
As for trade, Berlin places great importance on the importance of building a network of free and comprehensive trade agreements in addition to a broader one between the EU and Asean. The EU already has a pioneering Free Trade Agreement with Singapore. The hope is to build on that regionally, eliminating trade and investment barriers while agreeing on issues such as environmental and social standards, climate protection and competition policy, subsidies and the protection of intellectual property.
The lesson of the Covid-19 pandemic is that the world cannot afford to “deglobalise” its supply chains and trade relations, but rather to diversify them and make them more resilient. The forging of more trade agreements between Germany and the EU with countries of the Indo-Pacific region will help contribute towards this goal.
To sum up, Germany’s Indo-Pacific policy reflects the growing importance of the region to not just Germans but the people of Europe. By setting out the foreign policy guidelines, Germany is opening a new chapter in its relations with the region and hopes, with Asean as its partner, to be able to contribute to a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.