BRUSSELS--The European Union is searching for PR agencies to help improve its outreach across China and Southeast Asia. 

The EuropeAid Directorate-General, which oversees the EU's international development and cooperation activities, is set to release two multimillion euro tenders, according to published EU procurement documents.

One tender, worth as much as €4.5m, aims to "deepen political, economic and cultural relationships" between the EU and China. Another, worth up to €2m, looks to strengthen the EU's "public diplomacy and outreach" in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Both RFPs are expected to begin in March 2013, and are likely to attract attention from a broad range of international PR firms. The EU currently works with Edelman to boost its communications in Indonesia, via two contracts that are understood to be unaffected by the new tender.

According to the pre-tender notice, the EU is aiming to accomplish two objectives in China, with which it has had a troubled relationship.

First, the EU hopes to "promote widespread understanding and visibility" of the organization as an important partner for the region. Second, it is also seeking to better communicate its policies, values and external relations agenda.

To support these goals, the EU is seeking a PR firm that can provide "marketing, branding, advertising, social media, Web development and event management."

The move effectively marks a new EU strategy in China, following criticism that the European body has "has no China strategy at all." Europe remains China's number-one trade partner, but is wary of increasing Chinese investment in troubled European economies, and has investigated Chinese exports on anti-dumping and anti-subsidy grounds.

Meanwhile, China's markets remain limited to foreign investment. Negotiations for an EU-China investment treaty are expected to begin this year, focusing on market access, investment protection and equal treatment of enterprises.

The EU is seeking a similar communications approach in Indonesia, to "more assertively" communicate its policies regarding the country and ASEAN markets in general. In particular, PR agencies are being asked to support the EU Delegation in Jakarta through a range of "specific events and initiatives."

While Indonesia is ASEAN's largest economy, it ranks fourth for EU trade in the region, and no FTA with the country currently exists. The EU is ASEAN's second largest trading partner, and is, by far, the largest investor in ASEAN markets, spending around €9.1bn annually on average. 

The new tenders come after the EU appointed a consortium of agencies, including Grayling, to make the case for EU enlargement amid rising Euroscepticism.