The UK has expressed hope of attending future Asean meetings as the country doubles down on its ambition to be a dialogue partner with the Southeast Asian grouping after Brexit – which is expected to take place by the end of this month.
UK’s minister for Asia and the Pacific, Heather Wheeler, who was in Jakarta on Wednesday to open Britain’s new mission to Asean, said the UK wanted to continue the friendship it already had with the countries in Southeast Asia.
“We’ve been a dialogue partner via the European Union for over 40 years. We would like to have that status going forward. We realise it is going to take a little time to get that done but we are planting the seed today to say that we’d like UK dialogue status with Asean partners,” Wheeler told reporters.
The UK introduced its “All of Asia” policy last year to expand its presence in Southeast Asia and has since decided that it would appoint a dedicated mission to Asean.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made Bangkok his first overseas destination in July last year to attend an Asean ministerial meeting as a guest of Thailand, which, at that time, chaired Asean.
The UK has also been expressing its intention to be one of Asean’s dialogue partners even though Asean has for years implemented a moratorium on the establishment of new dialogue partnerships.
When asked on whether the UK would also want to attend future Asean meetings, including upcoming summits in Vietnam in November, Wheeler said her government was certainly hoping so.
“The last big Asean meeting came only three days after our general election so you will understand why our prime minister [Boris Johnson] could not go, but … we would like to be there and we expect to be there,” she said.
Wheeler also conveyed the UK’s position on the South China Sea – the highly disputed waters where tensions between some Asean countries and China are recurrent – saying that all parties should uphold international laws.
“We believe that everybody should stand by the laws of the sea and that we expect people to use all the appropriate legal mechanisms,” she said.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK