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Multipolar Competition and the Rules-based Order: Probing the Limits of EU Foreign and Security Policy in the South China Sea


Deepening multipolar competition has imposed constraints on European Union foreign and security policy (EUFSP). In the South China Sea (SCS), the European Union (EU) faces a complex foreign policy terrain for three reasons. First, the EU’s geographic distance from – and relatively limited capabilities in – the region may lend itself to a de minimis mitigating strategy, especially when considered against the backdrop of the broader imperative to mitigate the impact of multipolar competition on its foreign policy more generally. Second, multipolarity can be compatible with the preservation of a rules-based international order (RBIO) if the latter term is interpreted less stringently. And third, rather than being a factor purely to mitigate, multipolar competition in the wider Indo-Pacific theatre offers the EU certain opportunities – albeit not without risks – to strengthen the character of its foreign and security policy by actively participating in a competitive dynamic. Together, these facts should encourage us to rethink whether ‘mitigation’ always captures the entire essence of the EU’s response to multipolar competition.
Keywords: South China Sea; Indo-Pacific; rules-based international order; European Union; EU foreign policy; multipolarity

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