On September 2, 2020, the German government released a document entitled “Policy guidelines for the Indo-Pacific region. Germany—Europe—Asia: shaping the 21st century together,” in which the country for the first time officially endorsed the concept of the “Indo-Pacific.” Coming after months of inter-ministerial dialogue during which the German government appeared reluctant to even use term “Indo-Pacific,” the publication signaled a change in the country’s approach to the issue and attracted significant international attention and comments. The document was welcomed by Germany’s Asian partners, such as India and Japan, but also by France, which was the first European country to publish an Indo-Pacific strategy, back in 2018, and has been trying ever since to convince its European partners to endorse the concept.

Questions arose, however, regarding not only the motivation but also the depth and significance of the policy change. Some have blamed Germany for publishing a document that they perceive as excessively cautious vis-à-vis China, while Beijing in turn has blamed Germany for making such a politically significant move. It can be argued, however, that the value of the German document should be seen less in terms of its content than in its very existence. Furthermore, the circumstances of its publication are important, given the fact that, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most EU member states are increasingly skeptical about China’s intentions and question the evolution of their relationship with Beijing but are yet undecided as to what direction that should now take. Substantively, the German’s policy guidelines are cautious enough to reassure Berlin’s European partners and for the same reason constitute a powerful instrument to mobilize them behind a unified European Indo-Pacific strategy. Indeed, Germany’s public stance will likely impact the EU’s position, Brussels having so far refused to endorse the concept. It should however be careful not to do so at the expense of a potential EU strategy....

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This article was originally published in Internationale Politik Quarterly.