Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific

By Dr John Hemmings

Image result for uk chinaThe 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.

Report author Dr John Hemmings, Director of the Asia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society, said:

“The world is going to Asia, it is going by sea – and if we are to build a truly Global Britain, then we cannot be left behind.

“Britain has not stood at such a geopolitical crossroads for over a century, and the challenges in Asia demand that we play a role. With China increasingly dominant and the significant shift in economic power and wealth, Britain must seize her chance and lead the charge east. Doing so will actually increase our leverage with our European partners.

“A ‘Global Britain’ must engage with the thriving markets of the region – but this must not be at the expense of domestic security or the rules-based international order. We should invest in overseas bases, re-affirm our strong naval traditions in the Indo-Pacific and stand by our allies in debates which will decide the future of the international system.

“But we must start now. The world won’t wait.” 

Read the full report here.


Former Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, endorsed the report, stating that

John Hemmings has gone beyond rhetoric in his support for Global Britain and endorsed the need for a revived, vibrant British maritime policy. His analysis is refreshing and persuasive and needs to be read both in Whitehall and Westminster.”

C. Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

In his timely maritime manifesto for Britain in the Indo-Pacific, John Hemmings lays out a new East of Suez policy for London. As they struggle to cope with the strategic turbulence stirred by an assertive China and an uncertain America, Asian democracies are ready to welcome Britain back into the region

Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of College, National Security College, The Australian National University

“The Indo-Pacific region is rapidly becoming the global centre of gravity in strategy and geoeconomics. If the United Kingdom is serious about its Global Britain agenda, it cannot afford to take a narrowly commercial view of this vital region, where China is driving an intensifying competition about power, influence and values. Regional powers and global stakeholders alike a recognising the need to collaborate in this new era of multipolarity in the interests of sovereignty, rules and balance. This illuminating and incisive report by John Hemmings can help the UK navigate these new challenges and opportunities.”

Dr Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, heads ORF’s National Security Programme

Britain would do well to think along the lines suggested by Hemmings. It has equities in the  Commonwealth and FPDA and these can be used along with a group of like-minded states to create a balance of power  that will ensure peace in the Indo-Pacific region and preserve the rules based international system which has worked well for us so far.

Professor Peter A. Dutton, Distinguished Senior Fellow, US-Asia Law Institute, New York University School of Law said that:

John Hemmings is exactly right when he says the current moment “offers the nation an opportunity to adapt to the large-scale changes” occurring around the globe. China is now a global player and a regional powerhouse and with its new found power it is challenging the free, open, rule-based order that has served the interests of British trade, security, and political influence for centuries. At the same time, Russian expansionism threatens stability in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. However, while Britain has a role to play in Europe’s security, Russian pressure is primarily the continent’s challenge to address. Hemmings persuasively lays out the case that a Global Britain’s role in reinforcing the free and open, rules-based, maritime order in the Indo-Pacific best advances the United Kingdom’s economic well-being, security, and political influence.”

Dr Zack Cooper, Research Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

Global Britain is a useful slogan, but questions remains about whether this vision can be turned into reality. In this important report, Hemmings provides a valuable reminder about the importance of sustained British engagement.

The Indo-Pacific region could certainly benefit from renewed British engagement to uphold rules and norms in the region. Yet, as he notes, the risk that Britain’s appetite outstrips its abilities is real and cannot be ignored.”


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here