In a few months, a large Royal Navy flotilla will enter the South China Sea. Led by one of its new aircraft carriers, the tour is meant to demonstrate Britain’s commitment to the region, coming soon after it became an Association of Southeast Asian Nations dialogue partner and applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
These actions are presented as evidence of the UK’s renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific after its
European Union exit; a geographic shift which reflects its desire to forge a broader political and economic destiny outside the EU. The argument is that the UK, now free of the shackles of the EU’s inward-looking nature and centralised foreign policy, can return to its old tendencies, revitalise long-neglected relationships and pivot to new wealth-generating opportunities. It is therefore no surprise that Britain wants, as outlined in its recent foreign policy review, to be “deeply engaged” in Asia, given the changing global economy. It wants to leverage its historic ties to be the most active and influential European power within the region.