Written for the think tank Policy Exchange, the report underscores the growing economic and geostrategic importance of the region through which the majority of the world’s shipping passes.
“A leading global power, Great Britain has a major role to play in the Indo-Pacific,” says the report foreword, written by Hon Shinzō Abe, former prime minister of Japan. “As the world’s sixth largest economy, increased trade between the UK and Indo-Pacific nations will contribute to overall economic growth,” he wrote.
“Britain can also work with countries throughout the region on upholding democratic values and supporting the multinational institutions that have developed in recent years,” said Abe. “On the security front, the British military, and the Royal Navy in particular, will be a welcome presence in the seas of the Indo-Pacific. ”
The recommendation, published on Nov. 23, follows a growing appetite among regional powers to push back against Chinese aggression in the wake of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
In the summer, the United States formally rejected nearly all of Beijing’s major territorial claims in the South China Sea, as the Trump administration dialed up its response to security threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
Other countries in the region are also strengthening regional partnerships to push back against Beijing.
The Policy Exchange report says that a UK pivot to the Indo-pacific should be in five areas: expanding trade, sharing technology, security cooperation, diplomatic engagement, and promoting good governance and development.
The report conclusion says, “On security matters, while partnering with the United States and key nations like Japan, India, and Australia, the UK should focus its efforts in particular across southern parts of the Indo-Pacific, stretching from the Indian Ocean through the South Pacific.”
Special Forces for Training
The report recommends the UK send more Navy ships, RAF aircraft, and soldiers, with a year-round military presence. It also recommends to “substantially expand its military and security contributions” to lend a hand to U.S. forces in the region.
“Even with a rebalancing of U.S. foreign and security policy towards the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. is hard-pressed to maintain a consistent presence in some areas like the Indian Ocean or the South Pacific,” says the report.
The report recommends sending UK special forces and troops to train local soldiers.
The United States over the last two years has carried out a record number of what it calls freedom of navigation exercises in the region, aimed at establishing the principle of clear passage through disputed waters. Over the last few months, it has been joined by ships from other navies in the region.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson back in 2017 when he was foreign secretary, indicated that the Royal Navy’s newly minted aircraft carrier would be joining U.S. freedom of navigation exercises the following year.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have competing claims in the South China Sea. Beijing’s claims are the largest, covering almost all of the waterway. Home to rich fishing grounds and potentially valuable natural resources, the South China Sea is also one of the world’s major shipping routes.
Over the last 20 years, China built up the world’s largest collection of long-range anti-ship missiles and air-defenses precisely to neuter U.S. aircraft carriers in the region and to keep other regional powers on their toes. Beijing’s military budget has increased almost tenfold in the last couple of decades.
The U.S. military has been pivoting under the Trump administration to counter Beijing’s military build-up, revising decades-old strategies and pushing forward modernisation strategies such as hypersonic weapons systems.