Britain has been granted “dialogue partner” status by Asean, a step forward in London’s push to build stronger diplomatic ties in Asia following its exit from the EU.
Britain has been seeking the status as part of its post-Brexit policy shift to focus more on the high-growth economies of Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and away from the EU which it left in 2020, Reuters is reporting.
“We agreed to accord the UK the status of Dialogue Partner of Asean in view of its individual relationship with Asean as well as its past cooperation and engagement with Asean when it was a member of the EU,” said a communiqué issued by Asean during its latest meeting.
Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The group has close diplomatic relations with other world powers including the EU, the US and China, and is seen by many as an important forum for discussion of geopolitical issues.
The US sees Asean as key to its efforts to stand up to China’s growing influence in Asia.
But the group, whose members are bound by a code not to interfere in each other’s affairs, has recently come in for criticism by some of the region’s politicians and rights activists for being little more than a talking shop.
Becoming a dialogue partner gives Britain high-level access to Asean summits. The British government hopes it will also spur deeper practical cooperation on issues like climate change and regional stability.
According to the British Foreign Office, the application was made in June last year as part of efforts “to forge deeper relations with regional blocs beyond the UK’s doorstep, and boost ties with international forums that will lead to new opportunities across trade, education, science and security.”
Asean’s other dialogue partners include Japan, the United States, China, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia, and the European Union.
The status allows the dialogue partners to attend annual Asean summits and ministerial meetings, while facilitating practical cooperation across key sectors.
Britain has also applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement it hopes will open up new markets for goods and services and strengthen existing commercial links.