The European Union on Monday agreed to launch a new strategy aimed at boosting relations with the Indo-Pacific region, including potentially increasing its naval presence in an area of global rivalry.
The 27-nation bloc is looking to strengthen ties in the region it views as of "prime strategic importance for EU interests" amid competition between China and United States.
"Asia is one of the central economic and political arenas of the 21st century," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after a videoconference of EU foreign ministers.
"If we as Europe want to remain capable of acting, a purely economic view of the region is no longer sufficient."
The EU said it was looking to "foster a rules-based international order" in the region wracked by increasing tensions fuelled by the rising dominance of China and rival maritime claims.
"The aim is to contribute to regional stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development," it said.
Brussels said it would look to "protect critical maritime routes" through capacity-building with partner countries and hold joint exercises with its anti-piracy force.
"A meaningful European naval presence in the Indo-Pacific is acknowledged as important for the future," a statement said.
The vague strategy for a vast region spanning from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific Island States is still in its infancy.
It remains to be seen if EU members wary of upsetting Beijing will ould eventually be willing to commit naval forces.
EU foreign ministers told the bloc's top envoy Josep Borrell on Monday to put forward a joint communication on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific by September 2021.
The unveiling of the strategy comes ahead of an EU-India summit scheduled for May with the bloc looking to bolster it relations with India's vast markets.