Bookmark and share

Follow us

The European Union’s principled neutrality on the East China Sea
Mathieu Duchâtel and Fleur Huijskens
SIPRI Policy Brief

Click to enlarge


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.

Additional information

This Policy Brief forms part of a series on promoting crisis management in the East China Sea.

The Introduction to the series provides background information for understanding aspects of addressing maritime security in the East China Sea from the perspective of crisis management. Specifically, it gives overarching context to the four SIPRI Policy Briefs published in February 2014 on the same topic, which focus on how to avoid collisions at sea or in the air and how to prevent escalation when incidents do occur. They document the two-year period between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2015, which was characterized by high tension between China and Japan in relation to the East China Sea. During this time, the two countries finally agreed to resume their negotiations on a maritime crisis management mechanism, but whether they can reach a robust and sustainable agreement remains an open question.

The papers conclude a two-year project supported by the MacArthur Foundation that enabled SIPRI to host high-level track 1.5 maritime security dialogues in Stockholm with significant Chinese and Japanese participation. For this project, SIPRI also received support from the Japan Institute of International Affairs and China’s National Defence University. We express our gratitude for this support. As with all SIPRI publications, the views expressed in the four policy briefs are those of the authors.

Related publications

Bräuner, O., Chan, J. and Huijskens, F., ‘Confrontation and cooperation in the East China Sea: Chinese perspectives’, SIPRI Policy Brief, Feb. 2015.

Kotani, T., ‘Crisis management in the East China Sea’, SIPRI Policy Brief, Feb. 2015.

Zhang, T., ‘Building trust between China and Japan: lessons learned from bilateral interactions in the East China Sea’, SIPRI Policy Brief, Feb. 2015.


Dr Mathieu Duchâtel is Senior Researcher and Head of the SIPRI China and Global Security Project since 2011. He is based in Beijing, where he works on China’s foreign and security policies, with a focus on security in North East Asia and Europe-China relations. As SIPRI’s representative in Beijing, he develops cooperation with Chinese research institutions and outreach activities. In February 2015, he is a visiting fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

Fleur Huijskens (Netherlands) is an Associate Researcher with the SIPRI China and Global Security Project based in Shanghai. Her research interests include regional and maritime security in East Asia and security cooperation between China and the European Union.

Publisher: SIPRI
8 pp.
February 2015


Recent and forthcoming

Full list of publications

Permission requests

How to obtain SIPRI publications


Armed conflict and conflict management

Global and regional security

Military expenditure

Arms production

Arms transfers

Military technology

Chemical and biological weapons

Arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament


SIPRI Yearbook

SIPRI monographs

SIPRI Research Reports

Chemical & Biological Warfare Studies

SIPRI Policy Papers

SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security

SIPRI Fact Sheets, Background Papers and Policy Briefs

EU Non-proliferation Papers

Other publications