Monday, April 30, 2012

Britain’s “Re-Prioritisation” of Asia

It is not just the United States and Russia, but Britain also pivots to the Asia Pacific region. This implies that nations outside the region will play significant role in major power interactions in East Asia. What does Britain pursue in Asia?

Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and Burma this April is a landmark of Britain’s involvement in Asia. Prime Minister Cameron discussed bilateral defense partnership with Japan. A couple of years ago, Britain’s active sales promotion of Euro Fighter Typhoon had drawn much attention, but this is nothing new. Shortly after the victory in the Falkland War, Prime Minister-then Margaret Thatcher urged Japan to buy Harrier. Cameron’s visit can be interpreted as a step toward a long awaited aspiration in Britain’s Japan policy.

Cameron’s trip to Burma is a noteworthy event. As the former colonial ruler, Britain is the first European country to have a summit with the Burmese government to pave the way for democracy from current military dictatorship. Britain can play crucial role in political reform in Burma, as well as the United States and Japan.

In view of Foreign Secretary William Hague’s visit to Brunei to attend the EU-ASEAN foreign ministers meeting, Ambassador to Indonesia Mark Canning stresses Britain’s relationship with Asia in the blog of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (“EU has Arrived”; FCO Blogs; April 27, 2012). Britain, along with EU members, explores more trade and investment opportunities in rapidly growing Asian market. Also, global security issue like extremist threat and climate change are key agendas in the Brunei meeting.

It is commonly understood that Europeans do not find vital strategic interest in East Asia. However, Britain has historical ties with this region, and English language and British styled educational system are requisite to produce local elites. When we talk of power interactions in the Asia Pacific, we have to bear in mind that influence of non regional actors like Britain and other EU nations not be dismissed.