By Dr John Hemmings
The world is going to Asia, and it is going by sea. As both global political and economic influence move eastwards, the UK must recognise the importance of moving with these trends, or fear being left behind.
This is what our new report, Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific, calls for, alongside a renewal of the UK’s relationship with its Asian allies such as India, Japan and Singapore.
Opportunity in the region is undeniable, 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 prospects.
Though there are also several challenges taking place there that Britain must be brave enough to be a part of. The region is already a forum for competing visions of international relations – with many of Britain’s historic allies beginning to form loose security partnerships in the face of growing external threats.
China, in particular, poses one of the greatest obstacles to the rules-based international order, with its growing naval power, militarisation of vital sea lanes and its Belt and Road Initiative demonstrating that Beijing is intent on becoming a global powerhouse both in financial and hard power.
So as Britain stands at this geopolitical crossroads, as it moves to leave the European Union, she must seize her chance and lead the charge eastwards. She must ensure that she is a part of the debate that will shape the international order for the next century.
There are several ways to reach that ambition. Britain ought to renew her security relationship with its partners of the region – especially with the so-called ‘Quad’ of US, Japan, India and Australia – who are already seeking to build an “Asian Arc of Democracy”. London must also reach out to ASEAN for increased commercial, defence and diplomatic relations with some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Finally, to stand up for the rules-based international order, Britain must commit to increased defence spending, focusing on naval and air power, that would equip her to have a truly ‘global’ influence.
But we must start now. The world will not wait for us.
Dr John Hemmings is Director of the Asia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society