SINGAPORE — Europe is fretting that Asia isn’t doing enough to condemn Russia and support Ukraine — and it’s revving up efforts to sway Asian officials in person.
On Friday, an unprecedentedly high-profile European delegation will converge in Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s top security forum. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas will be there, as will EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, flanked by Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov.
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is also expected to attend in person — as are Boris Pistorius, Kajsa Ollongren and Pål Jonson, the defense ministers from Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Their goal: Rally more Asian countries to help Kyiv.
While many Asian nations initially joined in condemning Russia’s invasion at the United Nations, countries like India and Vietnam continue to count on Russian military or energy supplies, while Western allies Japan and South Korea are unable to let Ukraine get their lethal weapons due to domestic laws. And thus far, Singapore, a tiny city-state, is one of only a handful of Asian countries to have joined the West in sanctioning Russia.
“We must defend core security principles whenever and wherever they are threatened, from Ukraine to the South China Sea,” Borrell is expected to say in the forum, according to prepared remarks his team shared with POLITICO. “The EU is committed to do just that and counts on its partners to do the same.”
“Our member states’ navies are engaged with naval exercises” in the Asia-Pacific region, Borrell will also say. “We are ready to do more, but we need to make sure our cooperation is as operational as possible and a two-way street.”
Borrell will also portray the EU as “a reliable security partner,” one that is different from “a classic military alliance” or “a great power throwing its weight around,” veiled references to the U.S. and China.
“The war against Ukraine is changing Europe [in terms of] training, ammunition, capabilities,” Borrell will tell his Asian counterparts. “[It is] breaking taboos and accelerating [the] EU’s role and capacities on security and defense. This strategic transformation of [the] EU also makes us a more capable partner for Asia.”
One notable omission in the European delegation is French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu, who dropped out last-minute.
Another key agenda item for the Europeans in Singapore will also be engaging China — specifically the Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu.
Li has been blacklisted by the U.S. for his role in arranging Chinese military supply to Russia. As a result, the expectation is low for Li to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, a break from tradition where the top defense officials of the world’s two biggest superpowers usually meet during the Singapore forum.
Li, though, is expected to meet some of his European counterparts. Borrell, who’s also in charge of security policies, has confirmed a meeting with Li, according to three diplomats with knowledge of the event’s planning.
Germany and the Netherlands, which have arranged multiple meetings with Chinese officials in recent weeks, are also looking into a meeting with Li, the diplomats said.
An EU official, granted anonymity to share Brussels’ thinking on diplomatic engagement, stressed that Europe’s message is not just about Ukraine, but would also be focused on its commitment to Indo-Pacific security amid the assertive behavior of China.
A second EU official said the bloc would soon expand joint exercises with Japan, while also stepping up trilateral coordination between Brussels, Tokyo and Washington.