By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU) would boost maritime security cooperation with the Philippines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday, as she cited the need to make the Indo-Pacific region “free from coercion.”

The 27-member bloc seeks to boost information-sharing and threat assessment with the Philippines on maritime security, she told a joint briefing with Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. after their bilateral meeting in Manila.

“We are ready to strengthen the cooperation with the Philippines on maritime security in the region,” she said, adding that the EU would also help build the capacity of the Philippine Coast Guard.

China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea has prompted the Marcos government to boost security ties with allies including the United States.

Ms. Von der Leyen reaffirmed the EU’s support for a 2016 arbitration ruling that voided China’s claim to more than 80% of the disputed waterway based on a 1940s map.

The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague is “legally binding” and “provides the basis for peacefully resolving disputes between the parties,” she added.

Don Mclain Gill, a geopolitical analyst who teaches foreign relations at De La Salle University, noted that nearly 40% of European trade passes through the South China Sea.

“As China continues to ramp up its militarization, while also catalyzing more fault lines within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, maritime security becomes an even more critical issue, especially for extra-regional powers such as the EU,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“The most practical way forward is to forge strong relations with like-minded resident Indo-Pacific powers such as the Philippines.”

In her speech, Ms. Von der Leyen said the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific region is “indivisible.”

“Challenges to the rules-based order in our interconnected world affect all of us,” she said. “Our societies pay through higher energy bills through higher food costs. This is why we are concerned about the rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific.”

She stressed the importance of making the region “free of the threats of coercion,” saying it is “key to all our stability, to our peace and to the prosperity of our people.”

The EU now feels the “circumstantial effects of China’s bid to global dominance,” Chester B. Cabalza, founder of Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said via Messenger chat.

“This obvious collective deterrence shown by Western powers and trumpeted in their strong messages as they try to pivot now to the Indo-Pacific region shows the global importance of our region to make it as a sea of peace and a wide security space for all powers to maintain rule-based norms free from coercion,” he said.

He also said Europe would want to secure the Indo-Pacific region “as the fulcrum of the global economy and trade, center of geopolitics today and tomorrow, and the meta-center for ecological and environmental sustainability.”

The EU now sees the region as “the hope and future of the world” despite resident Asian powers such as China and India “dominating the newly constructed geopolitical region,” Mr. Cabalza said. “The world’s workforce is seen in our region and that is the reason full-scale intercontinental cooperation should be fostered for the survival of humanity.”

Ms. Von der Leyen’s Philippine visit was the first by a European Commission president in almost six decades.

Mr. Gill said her visit showed that Western countries recognize that the geopolitical significance of the Philippines in the region continues to increase “along with Manila’s overt and formidable policy shifts toward its like-minded allies and strategic partners.”

“This recognition continues to converge with the growing assertiveness and power projection of China in the region’s maritime domain,” he said. “Therefore, the Philippines serves as a natural partner of the EU in this regard.”