Johnston aiming to boost Indo-Pacific ties

Boosting post-Brexit trade will be high on the agenda when Prime Minister Boris Johnson travels to India next month in what Downing Street describes as his first, major bilateral visit since taking office a year ago.

In fact, though, the trip will be about much more than just trade. As the visit was announced, it was also revealed that India, Australia and South Korea had been invited to attend the G7 summit, which Britain is hosting next year.Mr Johnson's immediate aim appears to be a desire to increase the size of the G7 - currently comprising the UK, US, France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada - into a group of ten industrialised nations capable of challenging China's economic power and influence. The UK's relationship with China has deteriorated recently, primarily because Beijing's imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong."Increasing concerns over China’s assertive moves in the Indo-Pacific have also resulted in greater diplomatic efforts in the region by the US, Britain and the European Union – with India, Australia and the 10-nation Asean group at the forefront of their focus," commented the South China Morning Post."Australia is engaged in escalating trade and geopolitical disputes with China, while India has had military confrontations with China on the Himalayas in the last year, with dozens of casualties."US President-elect Joe Biden has also emphasised the need to rebuild US alliances after four years of President Donald Trump’s go-it-alone strategy with China."Three weeks ago, Mr Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a lengthy phone conversation on how ties between the two countries could be strengthened over the coming decade. During the conversation, Mr Modi invited his UK counterpart to attend January's Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi - only the second UK prime minister to be extended such an invitation.UK Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has been in India this week paving the way for Mr Johnson’s visit, exploring how India and the UK could deepen trade ties to achieve what is being described as a "quantum leap" in India-British relations.Mr Johnson said: “I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister Modi and I have pledged to achieve.“As a key player in the Indo-Pacific region, India is an increasingly indispensable partner for the United Kingdom as we work to boost jobs and growth, confront shared threats to our security and protect our planet.”A government spokesman in London said Mr Johnson would use his visit to boost cooperation in areas that would be foreign policy priorities for the UK throughout 2021 "from trade and investment, to defence and security, and health and climate change.The UK and India are already significant investors and markets for each other’s economies, with a trade and investment relationship worth £24 billion a year and supporting more than half a million jobs.There are 842 Indian companies operating in the UK with a combined turnover of £41.2 billion, creating jobs in all four corners of the United Kingdom, according to the government in London.A Downing Street spokesman said: “The visit will be the prime minister’s first major bilateral visit since taking office, and the first since the UK’s departure from the EU, and underlines his commitment to step up the UK’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.”The spokesman added that the invitation to India, Australia and South Korea to attend next year's G7 summit was "delivering the prime minister’s ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges”.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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