UK to shift foreign policy focus to Indo-Pacific region

“I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy,”- Boris Johnson

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The UK must do more to adapt to major changes in the world and therefore shift its foreign policy focus to the Indo-Pacific region, with countries such as India, Japan and Australia, a year-long of the country’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” vision concluded on Tuesday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who formally launched the ‘Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’ document in the House of Commons, underlined this so-called Indo-Pacific tilt by confirming his visit to India next month, an application for partner status of the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) economic union and the Royal Navy warship Queen Elizabeth Carrier deployment to the region.

“I am delighted to announce that I will visit India next month to strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy,” he said in his Commons statement.

“Britain will remain unswervingly committed to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] and preserving peace and security in Europe, and from this secure basis, we will seek out friends and partners wherever they can be found, building a coalition for openness and innovation, and engaging more deeply in the Indo-Pacific,” he said, highlighting an invitation to India, Australia and South Korea to attend the UK-hosted G7 Summit as part of “deeper engagement” in the Indo-Pacific.

Besides being at the “frontline of new security challenges”, the region’s shipping lanes are also seen as vital to maintain UK trade with Asia.

The year-long review had been commissioned as a future policy framework for the UK as a non-member of the European Union (EU).

The 100-page document also confirms the launch of two new cross-government hubs – a Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre, aimed at significantly improving the UK’s ability to “thwart terrorists”, and a White House style Situation Centre based in the Cabinet Office to improve the “use of data” to anticipate and respond to future crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

India is categorised as “an international actor of growing importance” in the review, which commits to achieving an Enhanced Trade Partnership this year as a roadmap to a potential “comprehensive trade deal”.

“The UK-India relationship is already strong, but over the next 10 years we seek transformation in our cooperation across the full range of our shared interests,” the review concludes.

“Our vision is for re-energised trade and investment, rooted in S&T [science and tech] and supporting levelling up in the UK and India alike; enhanced defence cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean Region, building on the existing biannual Ministerial Defence Dialogues; and UK-India leadership to tackle global challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health,” it adds.

It also takes note of China’s growing international stature as being “by far the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today”, with major implications for British values and interests and for the structure and shape of the international order.

Categorising it as a “challenge”, the review declares a plan to pursue a positive economic relationship within a “robust diplomatic framework”.

“We will not hesitate to stand up for our values and our interests where they are threatened, or when China acts in breach of existing agreements,” it notes.

Russia is another challenge country, which the review finds will remain the “most acute direct threat to the UK”.

“In all our endeavours, the United States will be our greatest ally and a uniquely close partner in defence, intelligence and security,” declared Johnson.

The review he had commissioned also highlights how the world’s soft power landscape is changing and therefore Britain’s own soft power can no longer be taken for granted.

“Those who challenge the values of open and democratic societies increasingly do so through culture: systemic competitors like Russia and China invest heavily in global cultural power projection and information operations… Our perception of other countries – and therefore their soft power – is also increasingly shaped in the digital space, driven by individuals and non-state actors, including through disinformation,” it warns.

The Integrated Review establishes tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity as the UK’s number one international priority in the decade ahead.

Investment in cutting-edge technology and an increase in nuclear warheads also form part of the future plans laid out in what has been termed the most comprehensive articulation of a foreign policy and national security approach published by a British government in decades and sets out government priorities until 2030.

As part of the overhaul, the cap on the number of warheads will now increase to 260, having been due to drop to 180 under previous plans from 2010.

While the review says the UK will not give exact figures on the size of its operational stockpile to maintain “deliberate ambiguity” for adversaries, it pledges the UK will maintain the “minimum destructive power needed to guarantee that the UK’s nuclear deterrent remains credible”.

“We will better protect ourselves against threats to our economic security. Our newly independent trade policy will be an instrument for ensuring that the rules and standards in future trade agreements reflect our values,” Johnson told MPs.

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