“England is no longer a mere European power… she is really more an Asiatic power than a European one,” wrote the one-time British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli in his 1847 novel, Tancred, Or The New Crusade. This was true when those words were written, during the heyday of the British Empire, when Britain controlled large swathes of Asia from the Indian subcontinent through Burma, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong to various Pacific island states.
After the empire unravelled during the last century, Britain retreated back to Europe, with which it forged progressively closer economic links. But these have frayed because of Brexit. Now, as part of the project of reinventing itself as “global Britain”, the old colonial power wants to forge new ties with Asia, coming not as a conqueror this time, but as a member of a club.
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