EU seeks bigger role in Asia’s ‘theatre of tensions’, agrees with Japan on Russia cooperation

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TOKYO, May 12 (Reuters) – European Union leaders said on Thursday that the EU wants to become a bigger actor in Asia, which they termed a “theatre 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 maximise their partnership to tackle Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, in areas such as energy.

But Michel and 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.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R) and European Council President Charles Michel (L) are greeted by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C) for their working lunch after they announced a joint statement at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 12 May 2022. The visit is the first to Japan for the two EU chiefs since they took office in 2019. EPA-EFE/YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / POOL

“The Indo-Pacific is a thriving region. It is also a theatre of tensions,” 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,” von der Leyen said at the start of their talks.

Tokyo has joined the European Union and Group of Seven 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 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.

Von der Leyen will leave Japan on Thursday afternoon, while Michel will travel to the nuclear memorial city of Hiroshima and leave at the weekend.

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