The UK faces significant opportunities and challenges in the Indo-Pacific. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is at the height of its geopolitical importance, but this potential belies a fragile and uncertain region. It is imperative for the UK and ASEAN to come together on areas where both can benefit and to manage expectations on the limits and freedoms of both.
This policy paper attempts to map out the present areas of cooperation between ASEAN and UK on a variety of aspects including international cooperation, economic prosperity, and regional security. It focuses on the UK’s presence in the Indo-Pacific region, specifically in the context of its post-Brexit engagement as an entity separate from the European Union. The paper argues that ASEAN stands to benefit from the UK’s ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific’, referenced in recent official documents such as the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. In the context of an ever-evolving region, the briefing will develop added areas of cooperation to undertake in the coming years.
Now operating as a separate political entity from the EU, the UK will require additional legwork in its engagement with ASEAN. Firstly, the UK must focus on being a force multiplier of international law and norms. Secondly, the UK must deepen economic ties with ASEAN – whether with the group as a whole or with its individual member states – and maximise the momentum towards post-pandemic recovery. Thirdly, the UK must strengthen and bolster security linkages in the region and be ambitious in its role as a strategic actor in the region. The Indo-Pacific region houses a variety of security partnerships and alliances that has helped maintain the peace and security in the region, despite traversing a tumultuous period.
The UK must build upon its previous engagement with the region to develop an independent Indo-Pacific policy centred around ASEAN and aiming to establish itself as a reliable and ambitious security partner.