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The European Union’s Principled Neutrality on the East China Sea

Publisher: SIPRI
February, 2015
This Policy Brief discusses the role that the European Union (EU) could play to support crisis management and international law solutions in the East China Sea. The current EU approach can be described as ‘principled neutrality’. On the one hand, it has no position on sovereignty issues, but on the other, it supports crisis management and international law solutions (at the general level of principled declarations). The policy brief argues that this rhetorical support plays a very limited—but not insignificant—role as it helps maintain cooperative security approaches in the security discourse. It also analyzes how the EU reached its current position and the difficulties it faces in exerting influence in the China–Japan–US strategic triangle. The policy brief recommends stronger diplomatic commitment by the new EU leadership and the External Action Service in support of an international maritime order based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), as the EU has unique potential to play a leading role in support of UNCLOS.


Dr Mathieu Duchâtel was a Senior Researcher in SIPRI’s China and Global Security Project.
Fleur Huijskens is an Associate Researcher at SIPRI within the China and Global Security programme.