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The Integrated Review offers a hint into the UK’s future priorities

3 min read

The Defence Command Paper published on 22 March) offers a glimpse into the UK’s defence doctrine over the coming decade. The Prime Minister has outlined that the Indo-Pacific region will become a focal point for military operations.

The first test of the strategy will be the Prime Minister’s visit to India in this month.

Johnson’s decision to visit the largest democracy in the world will aim to deepen security ties with India, while also expanding economic opportunities for investment and future visa rights. But what has spurred the UK to strengthen its relationship with India so rapidly? The simple answer is China.

the UK’s priorities are shifting away from continental Europe to the fast-growing but politically volatile regions of Asia

The rise of China poses the most complex challenge facing Global Britain. The Integrated Review identifies China as a major destabilising force and suggests that its increasingly aggressive activities along the Indo-Pacific region could threaten the UK’s economic interests.

India also views China’s rise with suspicion. As a rising power in its own right, India has attempted to expand its own influence across Asia through a number of major investment projects, such as the newly built Chabahar Port in Iran. China has fuelled its own geopolitical ambitions through the Road and Belt Initiative, which has funded numerous infrastructural projects in Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, in essence hemming India in by surrounding it with increasingly pro-Chinese states. Tensions between the two states rose to boiling point in August when they faced off against each other along the Himalayan region. It’s not surprising then, that it is mutually beneficial for India to cooperate more deeply with the UK.

Perhaps the most interesting example of this new geopolitical reality is the fact that the Government is inviting India alongside South Africa, Australia and South Korea to the G7 meeting this year. Traditionally a closed forum, India’s invitation sets clear signal that the UK aims to integrate it more deeply within global decision making. The new “democratic counterweight” demonstrates that the UK wants to develop greater ties with the US-led alliance of "Quad" states in an effort to balance China’s power in the Indo-China region.

The Integrated Review also identifies the growing economic opportunities that the Indo-Pacific region offers; with more than 90 per cent of economic growth in Asia expected to take place in the region, it is inevitable that this economic pivot would take place. Liz Truss, international trade secretary, has hoped that the UK could agree a deal with the 11-nation CPTPP Pacific trade group “in months rather than years” and that India was “a strong prospect for a future trade deal”. Economic interdependence India between and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) once again, highlights the new geopolitical reality that the UK’s priorities are shifting away from continental Europe to the fast-growing but politically volatile regions of Asia.

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