UK signs on as ASEAN dialogue partner

Hakim Hayat

ASEAN and the United Kingdom (UK) yesterday formalised a landmark agreement to elevate the status of their relationship as dialogue partners, paving the way for more cooperation between the region and the UK on a range of issues such as trade, investment, climate change, the environment, science and technology and education.

Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi signed a letter addressed to Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the UK Dominic Raab, conveying the decision of the 54th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) on August 2 to confer the UK the status of ASEAN dialogue partner in a ceremony held via video conference, that was also attended by ASEAN foreign ministers.

Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof as chair of the meeting said the UK has engagement and cooperation with ASEAN member states bilaterally, as well as regionally, for decades.

“However, as a dialogue partner, there is great potential for the UK to transform this strong commitment into tangible cooperation with ASEAN as a whole, across all three of our political security, economic and socio-cultural communities,” he said.

“As a start, ASEAN and the UK can explore new areas and opportunities leveraging on its experiences and expertise, so that they can contribute towards ASEAN’s community building process,” the minister added.

Raab said, “I am delighted that the UK has, today, formally become a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc – the first new country in 25 years.

Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof and British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam John Virgoe. PHOTO: HAKIM HAYAT

“This is a landmark moment in the UK’s tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. Our closer ties with ASEAN will help create green jobs, reinforce our security cooperation, promote tech and science partnerships, and safeguard key pillars of international law like the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Other ASEAN dialogue partners are Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States of America.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in a press release said since the UK submitted its application to become a dialogue partner in June 2020, the foreign secretary has attended two UK-ASEAN ministerial meetings and hosted the ASEAN Chair at the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers meeting in May.

“ASEAN is an influential group of 10 member countries in the Indo-Pacific. By becoming a dialogue partner, the UK will formalise its relations with the group – including through attending annual foreign and economic ministers meetings along with other ministerial engagements,” the statement added.

The FCDO also said the dialogue partner status puts the UK at the heart of the Indo-Pacific. “The UK will work with ASEAN and its members on key shared challenges such as maritime security and transnational crime, boost our economies through trade, and strengthen our cooperation on issues such COVID-19 and climate change.”

Raab also shared that the new agreement will help the UK to deepen economic links with ASEAN, which has a combined GDP of USD3.2 trillion. “Total trade between the UK and ASEAN was GBP32.3 billion in the four quarters to the first quarter of 2021 with huge potential to boost this trade, creating jobs at home.”

Meanwhile, British High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam John Virgoe said the UK is especially grateful to His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and the Government of Brunei for supporting the application to become a dialogue partner of ASEAN.

“We remain committed to deepening ties with Southeast Asia and strengthening our friendships across ASEAN,” the high commissioner added.

Raab has visited Southeast Asia five times since becoming the foreign secretary, demonstrating the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific, as set out in the Integrated Review.

FCDO said yesterday’s announcement came at a time of growing UK defence and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, as the UK’s Carrier Strike Group, led by the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is in the region and has completed a series of engagements with a range of ASEAN partners, with further interactions planned in autumn.

In June, the UK formally launched accession negotiations with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) nations. The CPTPP is one of the largest free trade areas in the world, accounting for 13 per cent of global GDP in 2019. Four ASEAN states – Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – are members of the CPTPP.