Since I was appointed Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific just over a year ago, I have criss-crossed the region — from Beijing to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu, Hanoi to Honiara, and Islamabad.
As Pakistan celebrates its 72nd Independence Day and the swearing in of a new government this week, clearly the country is at an important juncture in its history. As I saw for myself when I visited Pakistan last year, Pakistan has the potential to be another of Asia’s success stories. We want Pakistan to succeed as we share so much, from the millions of people that live, work and study across our two countries, to our longstanding trade, security and development cooperation. We look forward to working with the new government to continue the important joint work that we do.
It has been a privilege to meet a host of people from all over Asia in the UK, as well as those from the Asian diaspora. But I rarely have the opportunity to talk about the UK’s approach to Asia as a whole. Through this writing, I’d like to make the most of this opportunity.
First, a short personal story. In 1962, my parents married in Singapore. My father was stationed there with the British Army. I grew up hearing their stories about life in Asia. My interest only grew stronger when I first visited this wonderful continent over twenty years ago.
Quite rightly, the UK’s relationship with Asia has changed too — from that of my parents’ time, more than half a century ago, to the partnership we enjoy today, with our eyes firmly fixed on the future.
We call our approach ‘All of Asia’, and we use the phrase ‘All of Asia’ deliberately.
Asia is a continent of diversity, energy, economic ingenuity, and of young people, with one-third under the age of 25. Asia represents the future of this planet and I am passionate about seeing the UK continue to strengthen its partnerships across the region.
Our relationships with the biggest economies in Asia are of vital importance to the UK. But, the key issues of mutual interest, such as climate change, the illegal wildlife trade, technology, finance, security and research are relevant to ‘All of Asia’. This is why the UK has over 50 diplomatic missions across Asia, including in all ten members of the Association of the South East Asian Nations (Asean).
On prosperity, security and shared values, there is an enormous amount we are doing together, in a vast number of areas: from supporting democracy in Malaysia, and educational ventures in China, to spending £200 million across Asia to improve the business environment, to joint research linked to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, to standing up for regional security with our airpower and ships; the list goes on.
Pakistan has the potential to emerge as an increasingly strong trading partner for the UK. As we leave the EU, we want to deepen our trade relationship with Pakistan and see more UK-based companies doing business with, and investing in, Pakistan. I hope that Pakistan’s new government will prioritise economic reform and improvements in the business operating environment to make Pakistan the most attractive destination for trade and investment. Situated between Central Asia, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific, Pakistan is a key to regional connectivity.
‘All of Asia’ recognises that Asia is the continent within which the world of the 21st Century will be forged. It is about the UK and ‘All of Asia’ working together, in a partnership of equals, on the things that matter the most to people: getting a good education, finding a decent job, having their rights respected and feeling confident that their future is secure. Working together to build a future that is safer, freer and more prosperous for all. The UK looks forward to joining you all on this exciting journey.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2018.