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The Great British ‘Tilt’: PM backs push for bolder Britain in Indo-Pacific

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called on Britain to help “shape the destiny of the world”, by shifting its strategic policy focus towards an increasingly tumultuous Indo-Pacific.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called on Britain to help “shape the destiny of the world”, by shifting its strategic policy focus towards an increasingly tumultuous Indo-Pacific.

Counter-balancing the growing threat of an emboldened China in the Indo-Pacific has become one of the key priorities of the Morrison government following a deterioration in Australia-China relations. 

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This has become particularly evident in recent months, with China flexing its economic muscle to silence an increasingly vocal Australia, which has called out its human rights abuses, supported an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and blocked CCP-backed commercial entities (like Huawei) from accessing its market.

To China’s dismay, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has doubled down, stressing that the government would not compromise on “matters that go to Australia's national sovereignty”.

Instead, the PM has sought to strengthen ties with traditional allies in a bid to assure Australia’s security in the Indo-Pacific region (IPR).

This has included the signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) with Japan — an in-principle agreement aimed at facilitating greater practical engagement between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, enhancing inter-operability and co-operation.

And now, Prime Minister Morrison is calling on support from Australia’s oldest ally, Great Britain.

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Thankfully for the PM, calls for a strategic “tilt” toward a stronger British presence in the IPR are gathering momentum.

A bolder Britain in the IPR

Policy Exchange, one of the UK’s most preeminent thinktanks, recently published a report — A Very British Tilt: Towards a new UK Strategy in the Indo-Pacific region — in which it has called for a stronger British presence in a burgeoning IPR.

“[The] time is ripe for Britain to shift the weight of its strategic policy towards the Indo-Pacific as it reviews its role in the world,” the think tank noted.

Accordingly, the think tank has offered a list of recommendations to the British government, which include diplomatic and security measures aimed at strengthening the UK’s ties with allies in the IPR.

Diplomatic steps recommended by Policy Exchange include:

  • regular diplomatic tours of the IPR, particularly from a newly appointed Special Envoy for the Indo-Pacific;
  • ring-fencing funds for regulator IPR activities;
  • expanding the International Partnership Program run by the UK Space Agency and funded by the Overseas Development Assistance budget;
  • seeking participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between India, Australia, Japan and the US;
  • obtaining ‘Dialogue Partner’ status with ASEAN with a view to joining the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+) and the ASEAN Regional Forum;
  • strengthening UK engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum;
  • supporting Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration; and
  • pursuing greater practical co-operation with Taiwan, particularly on global health and cybersecurity matters.

A stronger military presence in the IPR also formed a key part of the think tank’s recommendations, with the UK government encouraged to:

  • establish a (civilian) three-star Indo-Pacific Directorate-General in the Ministry of Defence;
  • expand the regular presence of UK military assets in the IPR;
  • seek reciprocal access and base support agreements with key partners;
  • enhance the UK’s involvement in the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA);
  • explore new areas of co-operation in information sharing and maritime capacity building;
  • uphold the principle of free navigation in international waterways;
  • propose an Indo-Pacific security initiative focused on building capacity of IPR nations in maritime domain awareness, civil military training, and joint training; as well as countering threats from non-state actors; and
  • establish an Indo-Pacific cyber security partnership to develop and institute best practices in cyber security across the region, particularly in intellectual property protection and corporate security.

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Morrison was quick to endorse Policy Exchange’s recommendations in an address to the think tank, seizing the opportunity to invite the Johnson government to bolster its support for a rules-based order in the IPR.  

Order in the IPR

The PM made specific reference to the report’s vision of a “reinvigorated community of free and independent nations with a single overriding goal”.

He added: “[Namely], reinforce a sustainable rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific that is resilient but adaptable to the great power realities of the 21st century.”

Expanding on his call for a rules-based order in the IPR, Prime Minister Morrison drew inspiration from former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, expressing support for a “strategic balance of power that favours freedom”.

“A judicious balance of the Hobbesian, Kantian and Grotian traditions,” he said.

But in calling for a bolder Britain in the IPR to promote this vision, Prime Minister Morrison was sure to acknowledge the United States’ leadership.

“For decades, American leadership has been essential to the success of collective efforts in support of peace, security and open markets,” he said.

“And US alliance arrangements – whether with European nations and others through NATO or the bilateral alliances with Indo-Pacific nations including ANZUS with Australia, will remain the bedrock of our security. 

“US weight and convening power is vital to preserving the rules, norms and standards of our international community, including in the Indo-Pacific.”

However, amid uncertainty over a potential Biden administration’s ‘tilt’ in the Indo-Pacific, one can understand why Prime Minister Morrison is looking to the UK, and Europe more broadly, to reinforce regional order.  

“We need an outward-looking Europe that recognises that its interests extend beyond the Occidental,” he said.

“We welcome the United Kingdom’s aspiration to engage more actively in the Indo-Pacific, [both] in the pursuit of peace and security and economic prosperity.”

The PM capped off his address by recalling former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s push for a new Atlantic Charter, which sought to solidify the unity of Western nations in the face of the Soviet threat to democratic ideals.

“The nature of our challenge today is maybe different in many respects [but] the importance of unity and shared purpose amongst like-minded sovereign nations has not diminished,” the Prime Minister Morrison said.

“The UK and Australia have an important role to play here”

The PM concluded: “Free nations, liberal democracies, we have a fundamental role to play in securing peace and stability, fostering commerce and trade, and solving the global challenges we cannot solve ourselves.  

“We have done it before. We can do it again. We have a rich history of co-operation to draw on. We must all play our part.”

With these words, the PM confirmed China’s claim that Australia is harbouring a “Cold War mentality”, but a Cold War-like response to aggression from the communist regime may just be what the doctor ordered.

A bolder UK and a more assertive West could help buy Australia some time, allowing it to lean on its oldest allies as it escapes the grips of an emboldened China.   

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia's future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia's political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch with [email protected], [email protected], or at [email protected]. 

[Related: British PM announces historic UK military modernisation, strategic reorientation]

Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.

The Great British ‘Tilt’: PM backs push for bolder Britain in Indo-Pacific
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