Foreign Minister Dominic Raab attends the UK and ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at the Bandar Seri Begawan International Convention Center, Brunei on April 8, 2021.
Earlier this week, Britain was granted “Dialogue Partner” status by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the first nation to achieve this privilege in a quarter of a century. This decision marks an important step in London’s desire to strengthen its diplomatic and economic ties with Asia after leaving the European Union.
“We have agreed to grant the UK the status of ASEAN Dialogue Partner in view of its individual relationship with ASEAN as well as its past cooperation and engagement with ASEAN when it was a member. of the European Union, “the Southeast Asian bloc said in a statement issued after the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting this week.
The UK has become ASEAN’s first new dialogue partner since 1996, and its eleventh in total. Other ASEAN dialogue partners are Australia, which became the first in the bloc in 1974, followed by New Zealand (1975), Japan (1977), the United States (1977), the European Union (1977), Canada (1977), South Korea (1991), India (1995), China (1996) and the Russian Federation (1996).
In addition to granting the UK high-level access to regular ASEAN summits, the UK government also hopes the statute will strengthen its economic ties with the region and lead to practical cooperation on issues such as change climate and regional stability.
Since leaving the EU, London has embarked on a concerted ‘Pivot to Asia’, which is a central part of its post-Brexit project to transform into an agile trading power under the rubric of ‘Global Britain’ . At the end of last year, the UK negotiated free trade agreements with Singapore and Vietnam, as part of what the government describes as a strategy of forming “a network of trade agreements with vibrant economies far beyond Europe, making the UK a hub for services and trade. digital ”.
The British government also has ambitions to adhere to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership, successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact negotiated by US President Barack Obama before being torpedoed by President Donald Trump. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who visited Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore in June, told the Telegraph this week that London must move beyond its old “grassroots alliances” in the West to ensure its future security and prosperity.
The UK’s economic shift towards Asia has naturally also implied an increasing strategic focus on the region. The recent government decision Integrated review of security, defense, development and foreign policy suggested that the UK undertake a “shift” to “the Indo-Pacific”, describing the region as “critical to our economy, our security and our global ambition to support open societies”. He also dubbed the region “the melting pot of many of the most pressing global challenges – from climate and biodiversity to maritime safety and geopolitical competition linked to rules and standards.”
As part of this push, the UK sent a strike group led by the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on a 28-week deployment that last week went through the disputed South China Sea.
While the UK’s return “east of Suez”, like Brexit itself, has elements of a nostalgic colonial comeback, it makes perfect economic and strategic sense. According to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department, the total trade in goods and services between ASEAN and the UK is $ 52.13 billion in 2019. Meanwhile, the total stock of UK foreign direct investment in the Southeast Asian bloc stood at $ 28.6 billion in 2018.
As I have argued previously, the UK’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” fits well with the omnidirectional foreign policy preference of many Southeast Asian countries. The UK’s confirmation this week as a dialogue partner therefore works as a signal from ASEAN and its member states that they support the acceleration of the push to east London.