I am delighted to introduce Euro Asia Security Forum’s first guest post by Jie Sheng Li, researcher in international development.
The UK released the much-awaited 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) on 23 November 2015. A range of commentators heaved a sigh of relief as the document and the Prime Minister indicated a huge investment in military equipment, especially Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The review was, however, not just centred on military and defence policy, but indicating the UK’s foreign policy approach. This article aims to summarise the UK’s approach towards the Asia-Pacific as statement in the review and what it might indicate for the global arena.
It is commonly noted that the UK is no longer a military hard power player in the Asia-Pacific region especially since the mid-1990s. The UK instead has focused on its economic efforts to retain its influence in this region. The 2015 NSS and SDSR gave such an indication in the early paragraph 2.13, which stated “We are actively promoting closer relationships across the Asia-Pacific region.” It continued by stating the UK will form deeper relationships with emerging market economies such as China and India. This has already happened in the past decade or decades with UK exports to China expanding by 84% between 2010 and 2014. This culminated with the state visit of President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi in 2015. These examples indicate how the UK would use its economic power to maintain relations with Asia-Pacific giants.
A second and related means noted in the document was to use diplomatic means to assert power in the Asia-Pacific. The document states that a possible national security threat could be competition over historical territorial claims (paragraph 3.24). The UK government thus has pledged to strengthen cooperation with the range of countries in the region. The document devoted a section to the Asia-Pacific, starting off saying that the UK would support Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. This is of course welcome given Japan’s prominence in the global political arena and its strength for example as a G8 (http://www.cfr.org/international-organizations-and-alliances/group-eight-g8-industrialized-nations/p10647 ) member. Such a support, however, may bring stiff opposition from China due to its historical differences with Japan (http://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/china-japan-relations) and similarly, South Korea (http://thediplomat.com/tag/japan-south-korea-relations/). The rest of the section again states how the UK will strengthen relations by forging economic agreements, particularly with India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The 2015 NSS and SDSR also stated that the UK would heavily engage with the multilateral system. This might in turn aid with the stability and development of Asia-Pacific countries. It also pledged to work with the International Financial Institutions and pledged to reform them where necessary. The UK, unlike the US, further joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), indicating its interest to work with a new financial order (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-signs-founding-articles-of-agreement-of-the-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank ). While such moves may be welcomed, the UK’s ultimate aim is to maintain the capitalist-centred, neoliberal, rule-based world order. The UK’s efforts thus may create adverse not positive impact on south Asian countries.
A further means of approaching or influencing Asia-Pacific means is through soft power tools. The document noted that the UK would use the BBC to spread UK values and ideas globally. It pledged to invest “£85 million each year by 2017/18” in BBC services to improve its reach (paragraph 5.17). It has further planned to fund a BBC radio service that reaches into North Korea (http://www.northkoreatech.org/2015/11/28/bbc-confirms-plans-to-launch-north-korea-radio-service/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter ). Another more prominent tool is the UK’s development aid, which has risen since 2010. The report pledged to meet the UN 0.7% of GDP target and also spend 50% of UK aid in conflict-affected countries. Aid will be a prominent tool in curbing global instability. This is again welcomed, though DFID has little projects in conflict-affected states such as Cambodia and Laos (see DFID’s development tracker http://devtracker.dfid.gov.uk/location/country/ ). It remains to been seen where this shift of aid will head towards.
The above show that the UK will be using its non-military tools to maintain its presence and influence the Asia-Pacific region. This is however not to say the UK will not exert military power over there. As the review noted, the UK is still a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) and still maintains personnel in the logistic depot in Singapore and the Integrated Air Defence System in Malaysia. The review also noted that the UK continues to have a Gurkha garrison in Brunei, although it hardly exercises with regional armed forces. The UK, despite its smaller armed forces, still values the Asia-Pacific and has even established a liaison officer with the US Pacific Fleet and Japanese forces (http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=84884 ). The UK, despite its economic conditions and the geographical distance, should still maintain defence engagement with Asia-Pacific countries as unknown events may threaten UK interests there.(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/11773169/Britain-will-double-personnel-in-Far-East-war-games-David-Cameron-says.html).
This article has shown the UK’s approach to the Asia-Pacific as noted in the 2015 NSS and SDSR. It has shown that the UK will engage and influence the region mainly through economic, political and development means. It has indicated the shortcomings to the various pledges. Despite the lack of military presence, the UK will still however maintain its personnel presence in the Asia-Pacific in the long term. The NSS and SDSR has presented a holistic blueprint for UK engagement with the Asia-Pacific. It remains to be seen it there will be the resources to carry it through and the political will.
This is a guest post by Jie Sheng Li, researcher in international development. Comments welcome!