Earlier this week, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – or ASEAN – agreed that the UK would become a Dialogue Partner. This was sealed on Thursday when the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, signed a partnership agreement in a virtual ceremony. This decision was taken following months of talks between both sides since the UK formally announced its application back in 2020. It is also a significant landmark event in relations between the UK and the region. Why you may ask?
For ASEAN, the UK becomes the 11th Dialogue Partner. So while we are by no means the first, we are the first in 25 years following a pause on the intake of new partners. ASEAN also stands to benefit from the UK’s strong international reputation: our development expertise, our diplomatic network of over 190 missions and our permanent seat on the UN Security Council and our security relationship through our membership of NATO.
For the UK, both our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made no secret of our wish to partner up more closely with the Indo-Pacific. The Foreign Secretary has made six visits to the region which he sees as a key tenet of our vision for Global Britain and our desire to tilt toward this part of the globe. We believe we have much to offer; not just on trade and investment but also on climate change and the environment, science and technology, and education. And for both sides, the UK will now participate in meetings of Foreign and Economic Ministers which will be an opportunity to share knowledge and ideas on some of the key issues of the day.
As the UK’s ambassador since 2017, I am aware of the benefits of close cooperation with ASEAN. I have been able to appreciate the expertise and ideas springing from the ASEAN Center on Biodiversity headquartered in Laguna – particularly important as we head towards the UN Climate Change Conference being held in the UK this November.
I have seen the benefits of the cooperation between the UK’s National Crime Agency and ASEANAPOL as they work together to put a stop to some of the worst transnational crimes imaginable. And here and across the region, I have witnessed the benefits of working together more closely as we combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trade and investment will obviously be key, especially as every economy around the world looks to rebuild following the impact of the pandemic. The UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, sees much potential in ASEAN which has a combined market of over $3 trillion. I’m pleased to report that discussions are already taking place between the UK and the Philippines on how we can now seize the initiative and work even more closely together.
I’m delighted that the UK Government recently donated over 415,000 vaccines to the Philippines – the first wave of a significant global effort to ensure more people are vaccinated. This is on top of our work through COVAX to ensure more countries around the world have more equitable access to a safe vaccine.
The decision to confer Dialogue Partner status on the UK is the beginning rather than the end of our deepening partnership with ASEAN and its member-states. As our Foreign Secretary has said, we are investing more time, energy and effort in bilateral relations in Southeast Asia. He has been clear that while Europe was the fulcrum of geopolitics in the past, that mantle has now been passed to the Indo-Pacific.
In the Philippines, we have some exciting plans to deepen links, including through the launch of an Enhanced Partnership which will drive forward our work across political, people-to-people, economic, defence and security and climate change work.
In ASEAN, we have a newly opened UK Mission to ASEAN which is dedicated to building links; Ambassador Jon Lambe, the first UK Ambassador to ASEAN, visited the Philippines (virtually) last year and left with a strong impression of the potential for even greater cooperation.
My tour as the UK’s ambassador comes to an end soon. I’m delighted that the UK has become a Dialogue Partner before my departure. I wanted to say a special thank you to Foreign Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin and his team at the Department of Foreign Affairs for all they did to support us in this endeavor. Maraming salamat.
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Daniel Pruce is British Ambassador to the Philippines. Twitter @DanielPruce
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