16.02.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Britain Continuing its Tilt Towards the Indo-Pacific Region

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The NEO has previously reported on the attempts by the United Kingdom to return to a region referred to as “East of Suez” in the heyday of the British Empire. Today, such a trend in UK foreign policy is defined by the term “tilt,” the development of which has recently come to light with a number of new evidences.

On January 31 of this year, the world’s leading news agencies reported that the very next day, Liz Truss, Minister of Foreign Trade of the UK will officially apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (“CPTPP”) on behalf of her government.

Recall that this regional association, which includes 11 countries in Asia and the Americas (with the informal leadership of Japan) has been in operation since January 1, 2019, created to form a collective free trade area for member countries.

With the UK filing an application to join, a long process of preparations comes to the finish line. Its successful completion will be a notable event in the further development of the CPTPP, as well as in contemporary world politics.

Note that the UK back in early 2018 announced the possibility of joining this (only being formed then) association. Two and a half years later, talk about this topic turned to practical action. This refers to a meeting held on September 9, 2020, between Liz Truss and the Minister of Economy of Mexico, Graciela Márquez Colín, who is currently the head of the executive body (Commission) of the CPTPP. The official government announcement on the results of the negotiations calls the very fact that they were held “a major step in the process of joining CPTPP” for the UK.

The topic of such “joining” was again raised a month and a half later in Tokyo during the signing of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement by the same Liz Truss and her Japanese colleague Toshimitsu Motegi. Two more months later (on December 15, 2020), during a meeting between Liz Truss and Graciela Márquez Colín for an extension (with additions) of the British-Mexican Trade Agreement, there was stated an “intention of (the UK) to join” the CPTPP in early 2021.

The January 31 announcement of the same nature was accompanied by the following words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “One year after our departure for the EU we are forging new partnerships that will bring enormous economic benefits for the people of Britain.” The use of powerful phrases is in general a distinctive feature of the current prime minister of the UK. As is the fact that they, for the most part, have little to do with reality.

A bright prospect is associated with the fact that the current impressive figure of the total annual GDP of all 11 countries of this association (13.5% of the world) will increase by another 3% after the accession of the UK. But this is nothing more than the simplest manipulation of numbers by using the first act of arithmetic. This 3% can be added to anything. This does not change the fact that the current British-German trade turnover is much greater than that between Britain and Japan. It is unclear why and for what reason (even years later) UK businesses would reduce their share of business ties with nearby Germany in favor of Japan, which is on the opposite side of the globe.

In addition, according to estimates, not someday, but today the UK is already facing losses (contrary to Boris Johnson’s public optimism) as a result of the accomplished exit from the EU.

Meanwhile, commentators on London’s plans to join the CPTPP point to an emerging sensitivity related to the fact that the recent leader of a key British ally (Donald Trump) withdrew the United States from the TPP (predecessor of the current CPTPP) with his first executive order after his inauguration in January 2017. Although Joe Biden is positioned as a revisionist in relation to everything his predecessor did, so far there have been no signals from Washington of any intention to return to this association.  It is interesting to see how this “proactivity” on the part of London will be viewed in Washington. Moreover, the main geopolitical opponent of the United States (China) has also previously announced the possibility of joining the CPTPP.

It seems that over the past four years without Washington’s watchful eye its European partners have been enjoying themselves a bit too much: first they sign an investment agreement with China, and then a key ally sets its sights on the suspicious “Partnership.” The second is certain to be discussed during Biden’s upcoming visit to London.

However, the UK’s intention to join the CPTPP is accompanied by other intentions, all of which together constitute a set of signs indicating the development of the “tilt” in British foreign policy mentioned at the beginning. And these “other” intentions are sure to please Washington.

Almost simultaneously with the announcement of plans to join the CPTPP came information “from government sources” about London’s readiness to join the political-military configuration, which in the media is referred to as the Quad or even the Asian NATO. The history and current state of the Quad concept, whose origins go back to the second half of the 2000s, is periodically discussed in NEO.

The format of this configuration has not yet moved beyond the forum, and so far there are no signs of it acquiring anything resembling a full-fledged political-military organization. And if the opposite were true the situation in the ITR would move irreversibly toward the pre-war one. However, such a prospect cannot be ruled out either, but for now it is in the space of probabilities rather than certainties.

This information leak itself confirms the tendency of London’s foreign policy to “tilt” to the IPR. The generalized motivation for this trend is associated with the need to “contain Chinese expansionism”.

The same motif can be seen in another project (similar in content to the previous one), which is believed to have been initiated by the current British Prime Minister. This is a variant of the expansion of the current G7, which is demonstrating more and more clearly its utter uselessness. In opposition to Trump’s proposal to make it self-sufficient by adding Russia, Johnson advocated a “Ten Democracies” (D10) configuration consisting of the G7, India, South Korea, and Australia.

Note, however, that today the words “democracy,” “human rights,” and other similar words are easily uttered by some of the major international gangsters.

In addition to all kinds of “geopolitical engineering” increasingly clearly directed against the PRC, London does not shy away from petty anti-Chinese mischief. These include, in particular, the recent reemergence of the long-promoted topic of issuing so-called “British Overseas Passports” to Hong Kong people, whose “rights” are allegedly being violated by Beijing. The Chinese Global Times commentary on this and other (similar) subjects contains a notable passage about how the UK “still thinks of itself as Great Britain”.

And, indeed, it seems quite obvious that the first priority shouldbe to solve internal problems instead of trying to “get back East of Suez”. Their aggravation underlies the unhappy forecasts for the upcoming May local elections in a number of administrative units of the UK. The problem of separatist sentiments in the “Celtic fringes” is of the most serious nature. Not only in Scotland, where Johnson has recently been greeted, to put it mildly, very tepidly. Wales and Northern Ireland are next.

All this foreign policy fuss by the country’s leadership looks strange, with an obvious inconsistency between the available ammunition and its declared ambitions. As if a certain owner of a dilapidated house with a leaky roof had decided to look somewhere far away from where he lived to find a solution to his problems.

Or is this done to distract the attention of the housemates from the increasingly obvious failure of their own?

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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