Britain’s renewed enthusiasm in Southeast Asia means, among other tasks, negotiating the idiosyncrasies of ASEAN.
The United Kingdom’s proposed “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific was met with plenty of scepticism, including from this author, when it was unveiled in March as part of a broader Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy.
Politicians and foreign policy analysts tend to obsess about nomenclature. But catchy buzzwords can obscure as much as they elucidate. My first principle of analysis is to ignore the rhetoric and look at the reality.
In this case, how is a post-Brexit UK that has been battered by the pandemic going to find the time and resources to focus on a part of the world that is distant in geography and values?
Southeast Asia was always going to be a key proving ground of the UK’s ability and willingness to become a more influential actor in the Indo-Pacific.
The contours of the UK’s relationships with allies and close partners such as Japan, Australia and South Korea are already well established, while the deteriorating direction of the UK’s relationship with China is also increasingly clear.
Southeast Asia, at the geographical heart of the Indo-Pacific, is the sub-region where there is most to play for, and most at stake, for the United Kingdom and others looking to balance China’s growing power and influence.
That is why the British government made its bid to become a formal dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) one of the key objectives in the Integrated Review.
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