The announcement of the U.S. pivot toward Asia, shortly followed by Washington professing its willingness to cooperate with Europe on Asian matters, has forced upon Europeans a series of uneasy, interrelated questions. At issue is Europe’s perception of China, its declining role as a strategic actor in Asia, and its ability to contribute to regional security. To assert their strategic relevance in Asia, and avoid being dragged into a zero-sum game between the United States and China, Europeans—both at EU and national levels—could contribute to, and benefit from, policies that combine the promotion of international law with the provision of assistance to regional states to help modernize their armed forces. At a local level, this could even the playing field between these states and China. Ultimately, by participating more effectively in Asia’s regional security forums, Europe could increase its credibility and strengthen its hand vis-à-vis Beijing.  

Any debate about security in Asia or a strategy for the region is first and foremost a debate about China. This is a subject on which Europeans still do not agree even though Europe’s economic dependence on, and concerns about, Beijing are growing. Europe’s concerns are expressed mostly in economic and political terms—Beijing’s positions on Syria, Iran, and North Korea—rather than security terms. The idea that China is, or may become, directly or indirectly, a security threat to Europe is still seen as a somewhat abstract and justifiably remote possibility.