UK partners with Southeast Asia: Why this move is brilliant for Brexit Britain

President Trump's group handshake gaffe at ASEAN summit

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has granted the UK “dialogue partner” status in a major post-Brexit win for Britain. On Thursday morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will attend a virtual signing ceremony with the Asean nations as the UK eyes up more opportunities abroad.

Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The group has close diplomatic relations with other world powers including the EU, the United States and China, and is seen by many as an important forum for discussion of geopolitical issues.

The UK has been seeking status as a Dialogue Partner as part of its post-Brexit policy shift to focus more on the high-growth economies of Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and away from the EU.

This will form the diplomatic pillar of a three-pronged foreign policy strategy in the region, also including bolstering security and trade ties.

A communique issued by Asean said: “We agreed to accord the United Kingdom the status of Dialogue Partner of Asean in view of its individual relationship with Asean as well as its past cooperation and engagement with Asean when it was a member of the European Union.”

Speaking to The Telegraph, Dominic Raab said it was time to reach out beyond its old “baseline alliances” in the West.

He said membership of Asean would offer Britain opportunities and mitigate threats as the global “matrix of risk” evolves in the coming decades.

But there is another major reason the UK has sought to join the club: The United States sees Asean as key to its efforts to stand up to China’s growing influence in Asia, and the UK will seek alignment with Washington.

Mr Raab said it was important to seek ways to “positively influence China” in the region.

However, he added: “It’s not all about China, it’s about positive opportunities.

“The Indo-Pacific is the growth market of the future, if you take a 10-year period.”

The bloc has a combined GDP of $3.2 trillion (£2.3 trillion).

By becoming a Dialogue Partner, Britain will be granted high-level access to Asean summits and cooperate on trade, investment, climate change, the environment, science and technology, and education.

Other formal partners of the bloc include the US, EU, China, India, Japan and Russia.

Britain has also applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement it hopes will open up new markets for goods and services and strengthen existing commercial links.

Mr Raab said: “We need to not just rely on the old important baseline alliances, whether it’s Five Eyes [intelligence-sharing partnership], Nato, the US or European friends.

“They matter. It’s not about diluting our focus on that, but we need to build on it.

“And so a region like Southeast Asia is particularly important.”

He added: “There is no doubt that the tectonic plates geopolitically, the economic ties, have shifted to the Indo Pacific.”

Veerle Nouwens, a senior research fellow on the Indo-Pacific Programme at the Royal United Services Institute, said it was “very significant” that the UK had become a dialogue partner of the bloc following its multi-decade moratorium on new members.

She said: “It means the UK can now sit at the table at high-level meetings at Asean with countries whose economic projections are incredibly promising.”

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