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UK’s focus on our region

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British Foreign and Commonwealth Minister of State Jeremy Browne addresses the Legislative Assembly in Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, last month. Photograph: Reuters

The world is transforming fast, and the starting point for any discussion about the nations of ASEAN must be their inexorable rise as global economic and political players.

In the UK, we recognise that this region is essential to achieving our foreign-policy goals and as an engine of economic growth for the world.

For that reason, I am pleased to be in Cambodia today after visiting Thailand, and with my next stop in Vietnam, following visits to Southeast Asia this year by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague.

More British diplomats are now working in Southeast Asia to strengthen our relationship with the region. For this reason, our embassy in Phnom Penh has expanded this year. When our new embassy opens in Laos this year, the UK will be represented in every ASEAN state.

Taken as a whole, Southeast Asia is already the eighth-largest economy in the world and contains several of the fastest-growing national economies.

At the EU- ASEAN Business Summit in April, we had an important discussion of the challenges and opportunities ahead for businesses in a more integrated ASEAN.

The UK sees great promise in ASEAN’s vision of a single economic community by 2015, and Cambodia has much to gain from regional integration and greater connectivity.

We are working with our European Union colleagues to conclude ambitious trade agreements with countries in this region, including Vietnam and Singapore.

I am proud that the UK is consistently rated the easiest place to do business in Europe, and I welcome the role of Asian companies in the UK. One of the largest investments in Britain last year was from the Thai steel manufacturer SSI.

And, as a world leader in educat-ion, financial services and sustain-able technology, the UK has much to offer Southeast Asia.

We see this, for example, in the new UK-ASEAN knowledge partnership, a multi-million-pound initiative designed to support education and research development links between the UK and the countries of Southeast Asia.

In Cambodia, we have world-class UK garment manufacturers, growing education links between our universities and more young people studying in the UK, and world-class British engineering services behind sustainable buildings.

The UK values our strong co-operation with South East Asian countries on security issues: our strategic partnership with Vietnam; our role in the Five Power Defence Arrangement with Singapore and Malaysia; our co-operation in counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and promoting maritime security.

Later this month, the UK will accede to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Co-operation at a ceremony in Cambodia. With the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, we will sign a protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

I look forward to deepening our security relationship with ASEAN through these events and extending the areas in which we work together.

There are emerging challenges, too. My colleague Nick Harvey, the Minister for the Armed Forces, spoke about the rapidly evolving issue of cyber security at the Shangri La Defence Dialogue in June.

Threats posed by online organised crime, terrorist radicalisation or intellectual-property theft are not bound by national borders; states must join together to address them.

In doing so, we must equally protect our citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.

I firmly believe that democracy and accountability are the foundation stones of long-term security and prosperity: they ensure that governments are answerable to the people, as well as enabling peaceful transition of governments.

They also promote innovation and support economic success.

Two weeks ago, the UK was privileged to welcome Aung San Suu Kyi, a tireless advocate for democracy. The changes begun by President Thein Sein are truly historic, and the UK supports all those engaged in the process of bringing democratic reform to Myanmar.

The ASEAN Charter makes clear the commitment of its members to democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights has an opportunity to embed these values even more firmly in ASEAN’s work through the Human Rights Declaration that will be presented to foreign ministers later this month, and through contributions from civil society in ASEAN.

As the Foreign Secretary said in Singapore earlier this year, the UK’s engagement in Asia is not an option but an imperative.

We welcome ASEAN and her member states playing a more active role in addressing global issues, as we welcome your emergence as economic powers and the growth in opportunity for your people.

Our diplomatic and economic investment here will be for the long term: for stronger relations between the UK and Asian nations; for greater trade and investment; and for a more secure world.

Jeremy Browne is Britain’s Foreign Minister.

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