HomeUnited KingdomMinister for the Indo-Pacific at Asia House

Minister for the Indo-Pacific at Asia House

So we’re going to be continuing to seek those deeper partnerships with all these amazing countries across the Indo-Pacific, and with the regional network in partnership with ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), amongst others. So I think Lord Green is right to talk about ‘turbulence’ in the coming year. But there will be two things that will remain consistent in 2024. One of those is Asian growth, and the other one is the UK’s commitment to be at the heart of that. And not wishing to be a predicter I think 2024 is probably going to be equally unpredictable. As you mentioned we have got elections in 60 countries, over 2 billion people going to the polls. Which is an extraordinary thing when you think about that sort of voice being spoken from citizens across the world. It is actually a global first – from Bangladesh and Taiwan in the last few weeks to India, Indonesia, South Korea, Sri Lanka… our own UK General Election at some point, I can give you no insider information, and of course at the end of the year the USA’s Presidential election. The UK knows that security and trade will form a virtuous circle in our relationships throughout Asia. In 2023 we saw a number of notable successes for this approach, as we signed our Accession Protocol to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – CPTPP – that was in July. Now joining CPTPP is going to give UK businesses an extraordinarily exciting enhanced access to the Malaysian market for the first time, and it puts the UK at the heart of a dynamic group of free trading countries, which are in the right place, and at the right time. Now we did know even then that we were going to be looking at an unpredictable year, but I’m not sure that any of us would have anticipated the scale of events that has impacted economies over the last year, from the continuing challenges around climate change, to cybersecurity, from the conflicts in Ukraine which continue to create huge strains and of course in Gaza, US-China competition, the really substantial impacts we’re seeing through BRICS expansion and of course the Saudi-Iran deal. I had the great pleasure to attend the IORA Ministerial in Colombo in October last year, and indeed the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands in November. I spend a lot of time on planes these days, some of which work better than others. I think what I’ve heard time and again from my counterparts, in spite of their very diverse interests, was a desire for the kind of stable world order that will support economic growth and genuinely allow sustainable development. Because that stable world order in which we can all win that race for climate security, and of course the health security. And a stable world order that gets that prosperity that every country needs back on track. Now all of these relationships require a degree of trust. Trust that there are certain rules of engagement that the parties agree to follow. 2023 saw an important moment in this regard, as the UK, China and 27 other countries signed the Bletchley Declaration at the AI Safety Summit, to voice our mutual concern at the dangers of unfettered AI development, and to work together on safety research. This work is a cornerstone of the UK’s leadership in digital transformation, as we carve out our role in a new technical world this year.
2023 also saw publication of the UK Government’s Integrated Review Refresh, which set out the UK’s approach to global threats more widely, as well as our approach to the UK-China relationship. As Permanent Members of the UN Security Council together, each with a powerful global reach, the UK’s relationship with China has enormous potential to overcome some of the greatest global challenges together. So I welcomed China’s attendance at the AI Summit and also the UK-China engagement on climate change at COP28. Looking to the opportunities to come, Outlook 2024 rightly notes the importance of digital transformation to support economic growth. We know that AI and other critical technologies have the potential to transform our societies and improve the lives of millions. So we will build on the AI Safety Summit and continue to spur collective international action to navigate both the opportunities and the risks of this new frontier. We seek to ensure public safety, to drive commercial benefits and to promote values in line with our democratic ideals, assisting businesses in the process. Now the Foreign Secretary has called this an ‘age of insecurity’, and that insecurity can fan out both by land and by sea. And of course the recent situations in the Red Sea are a blunt reminder of what that looks like. So the UK’s deployment of HMS Diamond in support of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an international taskforce to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, is perhaps a clear example of the UK’s intent. On maritime security, I’m looking forward to continuing engagement with the AUKUS partnership this year, as well as working with some key Indo-Pacific partners to assure global waters are safer for everyone. And of course, our ambition is to complete the required domestic procedures to join CPTPP as soon as possible, with the aim of completing that in the second half of this year. This is all before we mention the long-term benefits that membership of CPTPP presents for the UK: that stronger voice to shape global standards in areas like digital trade, more resilience and security in our supply chains, and more opportunities for jobs and growth right across the UK. So it is my great honour, as Minister for the Indo-Pacific, and our superb team of Ambassadors and High Commissioners around the world, to understand our partners’ priorities and to respond to them and work with you. We will encourage and work with our brilliant businesses, our investors, our entrepreneurs and their counterparts across the region to maximise these opportunities, for 2024, and for the long-term. Thank you. The Covid pandemic taught us that it is prudent to reduce dependencies in our critical supply chains, but we do believe that a positive trade and investment relationship with China is also critically important for both our countries’ interests. So we must maintain open channels to discuss all areas of our relationship, including where we have concerns. That includes the deterioration of freedoms in Hong Kong and the need to preserve peace in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. These are matters of global interest. And so following Taiwan’s recent elections, I hope that those on both sides of the Strait will renew efforts to resolve differences through constructive dialogue. It is important that engagement between the UK and China continues to grow throughout 2024, and I am very pleased to be joined here today by our esteemed colleague, His Excellency. And as Asia House correctly foresees, this will likely be a turbulent year. Therefore, 2024 also needs to be a year of patient diplomacy, as we continue to put in place these long term frameworks that will build the range of partnerships required to protect UK prosperity and security and to support global efforts to tackle those shared challenges. Whether those frameworks are FTAs, defence and security arrangements or innovative approaches to mitigating the impacts of climate change.   On trade, we’ve continued negotiations on our UK-India Free Trade Agreement: a deal to boost our current trading relationship, already worth £38 billion, and we are working to upgrade the UK-Korea FTA as announced during the recent State Visit, to enhance our existing £18 billion trade relationship with South Korea. We’ve also been strengthening important bilateral relationships, with a new Strategic Partnership with Singapore, and the Downing Street Accord with the Republic of Korea. The Downing Street Accord commits both sides to deeper cooperation on defence and security, on trade and investment, on science and technology and on wider global issues together. And in May we announced the expansion of British International Investments (BII as it’s known) to the Indo-Pacific, which is going to invest up to £500 million of climate finance. And we’ve also agreed the UK-Singapore Green Economy Framework MoU. Something that became particularly stark in 2023 is that Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific security are clearly inseparable. Understanding that, and for that reason, that’s why the UK and so many of our partners want to be part of sustaining a free and open Indo-Pacific. Simply put, it is in our interests for the Indo-Pacific to be secure and stable. And it is in the interests of the region’s people to build a free, fair future, where top quality trade rules are respected, trade routes can stay open, data and energies can flow freely, and countries have free choices. It is a real pleasure to be here again for the launch, gosh in a blink of an eye isn’t it, the 2024 Outlook. And it really doesn’t seem like a year since I was standing at this lectern, predicting I think as I was, ‘months of change ahead’. But I wasn’t entirely wrong because it has indeed been a busy year and an awful lot has happened. These are pillars if you like in the UK’s continuing growth and development of that commitment to the Indo-Pacific. More widely in support of regional security and stability, we’ve agreed a Reciprocal Access Agreement with Japan in January last year. The UK is the first European country to agree an RAA with Japan, which is enabling both countries to undertake longer, larger, more frequent and more complex joint exercising. And we are also sharing our cutting edge technology through the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP for short), to strengthen our deterrence and defence and the signing of the GCAP treaty with Japan and Italy in December was a really important milestone for that. And we of course have our Free Trade Agreements with Australia and New Zealand came into force last year, with an expectation to increase bilateral trade by 53 and 59 percent respectively over the long term.


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