The weight of the global economy is going to Asia, it is going by sea – and the United Kingdom must act now if we are to build a truly Global Britain, according to a new report from The Henry Jackson Society.
Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific notes how the future of both the economic order and the rules-based international system will be decided in the Indo-Pacific. China’s growing naval power, its militarisation of sea lanes and its Belt and Road Initiative indicate not only a power determined to become wealthy, but one determined to set the rules of the coming age. However, many of China’s Asian neighbours seek to defend rules over power.
With Britain looking for new opportunities abroad in the wake of Brexit and the economic and demographic realities pointing east, the report argues that the UK must reinvigorate its partnerships with historic allies in the region, not least India and Japan – while also redeveloping new “special relationships” with Commonwealth countries such as Singapore.
The report highlights that:
- The global middle class will grow 50% by 2030, with much of that growth taking place in the Indo-Pacific – spawning hundreds of new cities, industries and opportunities.
- Over 90% of global trade is carried by sea and that maritime trade will only increase as regional powers struggle to bring consumer goods and energy to these new cities.
- China seeks to exert control over these sea lanes in order to protect its own sea lanes, constrain India’s rise and set the rules for the coming era.
- The Indo-Pacific is becoming a forum for competing visions of international relations – with many of Britain’s historic allies beginning to align in loose security groupings based on respect for maritime conventions and law.
- The UK, dependent on the rules-based order and the sea lanes in the region, will ultimately have to adopt the “engage and balance” approach that most Asian powers have adopted towards China.
While endorsing the ‘cautious engagement’ approach of Prime Minister Theresa May to China, the report recommends that Britain should:
- Seek a number of overlapping security relationships across the Indo-Pacific with large numbers of partners – including the ‘Quad’ of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
- Create “special partners” in ASEAN – not least Singapore, where Britain should explore the possibility for regular ‘2+2’ meetings between the two countries’ defence and foreign ministers.
- Renew her security relationship with Australia – a useful “node of access” for the UK, as Australia is developing closer relations with key allies including the US, Japan and France.
Standing up for the rules-based international order in the face of the challenge from China should also involve:
- An incremental increase in Britain’s defence spending, from the current 2% of GDP to 3%. This, with a particular focus on the future of naval and air power, would equip the UK with the requisite tools to have a truly ‘global’ influence.
- Invest in soft power diplomacy to improve ties with Asian countries. These should involve a rise in funding for language programmes at British universities, particularly in Japanese, Chinese and Hindi; and providing help financing infrastructure development across the region, to counter the Belt and Road Initiative.
Read the full report here.