Indo-Pacific identified as top UK priority

The UK will "tilt" its post-Brexit focus towards the Indo-Pacific under a major foreign policy restructure unveiled in a 114-page Integrated Review published by the government in London.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament that the UK would "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”.Mr Johnson - who confirmed he would be visiting India next month, when he is expected to finalise an Enhanced Trade Partnership deal as a precursor to a free trade agreement between the two nations - also described the review as a blueprint for "securing Britain’s place as a science superpower and a hub of innovation and research".The prime minister pointed to proposals in the review for the UK to join the Asia-Pacific free trade agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and become a dialogue partner in Asean (the Association of South East Asian Nations).“In the decade ahead, the UK will deepen our engagement in the Indo-Pacific, establishing a greater and more persistent presence than any other European country. The region is already critical to our economy and security; is a focal point for the negotiation of international laws, rules and norms; and will become more important to UK prosperity over the next decade,” the review stated.
“We will pursue deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific in support of shared prosperity and regional stability, with stronger diplomatic and trading ties. This approach recognises the importance of powers in the region such as China, India and Japan.“The UK-India relationship is already strong, but over the next ten years we seek transformation. an international actor of growing importance. Our vision is for re-energised trade and investment, rooted in science and technology and supporting levelling up in the UK and India alike; enhanced defence cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean Region; and UK-India leadership to tackle global challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health.”Mr Johnson pointed out that he had invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea and India to attend the G7 summit in Britain in June, and said that his visit to India was intended to "strengthen our friendship with the world’s biggest democracy"But he added: "In all our endeavours, the United States will be our greatest ally and a uniquely close partner in defence, intelligence and security. Britain’s commitment to the security of our European home will remain unconditional and immoveable."The review said the UK must show that liberal democracy and free markets remained the best models for social and economic advancement. It also singled out China's "increasing power and international assertiveness" as the most significant geopolitical factor of the coming decade.Mr Johnson described China as posing a "great challenge for an open society like ours", but said the UK would work with Beijing "where that is consistent with our values and interests".The review also said that tackling climate change and the loss of biodiversity was the nation's top international priority.Andy Burwell, director of international trade at the Confederation of British Industry, described the review as a critical first step as the UK redefined its role in the world with the aim of remaining "globally competitive, dynamic and outward facing".He added: "A stronger partnership between business and government on the global stage remains essential for success. Business will welcome the importance placed on relations with key growth markets to boost business confidence, along with a balanced approach to China."Key to this partnership will be closely aligning international interests to priorities at home, be that championing the race to net zero or investing in future technology."Julian David, CEO of the industry body techUK, welcomed the review's emphasis on technology as a strategic enabler, particularly the focus on cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and cyber security."This, together with the wholesale modernisation of UK defence capabilities and substantial uplift in UK spending on research and development, will encourage greater collaboration between government and the technology industry to deliver on the review’s ambitions," he said.“TechUK also welcomes the review’s commitment to climate change and preserving biodiversity as the primary international priority, particularly ahead of the UK’s hosting of COP26 later this year."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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