Asia and the UK – Partnering for prosperity

Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire gave a speech at Reform on how Britain and Asia are partnering for prosperity.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Asia and the UK – Partnering for prosperity

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am grateful to Reform for inviting me to speak today. It is a privilege to share a platform with His Excellency Dr Lim Hong Hin and Marjut Hannonen – both of whom will bring interesting perspectives to our discussions.

Everyone here knows about Asia’s vital importance to global prosperity. I want to get straight into how the Government is responding. How we are, to quote the title of today’s session, “partnering for prosperity”.

The UK in Asia

When this Government took office, we made a conscious choice to develop new partnerships in Asia and to deepen our many old friendships.

We are backing up our words with action: Government Ministers have undertaken a number of visits to Asia, creating relationships across government, industry, business and civil society. I, myself, have recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.

We are focusing more resources on the region: 63 extra frontline staff in China; reopening our Embassy in Laos; expanding our diplomatic missions across South-East Asia, in South Korea and Australia; and enhancing our Asia teams in Washington and Brussels.

We are equipping our staff with the skills to help Britain compete: sending Ambassadors on business secondments before they take up postings; reopening the Foreign Office language school, and expanding our training in Asian languages so our staff can form relationships that deliver for Britain.

We are innovating: Of our new staff in China, 18 are dedicated to provinces less well-known in the UK – many of which have GDP, landmass and populations larger than entire European countries. We are working with British Chambers across Asia to support British companies more effectively.

We are expanding our co-operation: the UK’s Science and Innovation Network is fostering new collaborations, for instance in Smart Grid technology; and we are supporting the establishment of campuses in Asia for UK universities, such as Reading University in Malaysia. Indeed, in 2011-12, well over half a million students from ASEAN countries opted to study for a British qualification in their own country – 13 percent more than a year before.

All of this is having a positive impact: in the first quarter of this year, UK exports to the Asia Pacific increased by 6 percent. That’s an extra £575 million.

Asia in the UK

A true “partnership for prosperity” is not one-way. I am delighted that so many Asian countries have found Britain to be a welcoming destination for trade and investment and a gateway to Europe.

We have longstanding investments from Asia, which go from strength to strength. Japanese car manufacturer Nissan announced last year that it will invest a further £127 million here – one of over 1,200 Japanese companies in the UK, which taken together employ over 100,000 people.

We are welcoming new investments: just look across the Thames to Battersea, where last week a Malaysian consortium broke ground on its £8 billion revamp of Battersea Power Station. Chinese investment into the UK increased by nearly 80 percent between 2011-12, and last month we saw deals worth over £2 billion pounds, including the redevelopment of London’s Royal Albert Docks.

Looking to the future

But despite all of this activity, we shouldn’t be complacent.

People speak of the 21st Century being Asia’s Century. But in a networked world, different countries and regions need to work and trade together to prosper, and to support each other in tackling global threats. In the UK, Asia has a committed partner.

Take climate change. I am proud that Britain has consistently shown global leadership. We work bilaterally and multilaterally to help develop innovative responses to the challenge we all face. In China, for example, we funded work which led to the adoption of ground-breaking green credit guidelines.

We are also working with Asia to prevent and reduce conflict, terrorism, narcotics-trafficking and the growing threat of cyber crime. In 2011, the UK organised the first high-level inter-governmental conference on ‘threats and opportunities in cyberspace’. I am delighted that South Korea will host the third session later this year.

And we must take a similarly global approach to one of the most pressing issues we currently face: reinforcing the rules and systems that govern global trade to promote economic stability and co-operation. The UK’s 2013 G8 presidency has driven forward our agenda on Tax, Transparency and Trade, and we look forward to working with our Asian partners to implement changes that will benefit us all.

In tackling all of these issues, we must also work through the networks open to us.

I believe there is huge potential in co-operation with ASEAN, particularly as we look to an integrated ASEAN Economic Community; and in the European Union’s work to agree Free Trade Agreements in Asia. I’m sure Dr Lim and Marjut will speak about these issues in more detail shortly.

There is more potential we can unlock for trade and investment between Britain and Asia. We want more of our companies to export, in line with Lord Green’s National Export Challenge to increase the number from 1 in 5 to 1 in 4. That would add an estimated £36 billion to the UK economy. Asia can seem a daunting, and distant prospect, particularly to small and medium sized enterprises – so we are working with partners like the China-Britain Business Council and the UK-ASEAN Business Council to highlight the potential.

Estimates suggest that there will almost 300 million new members of the consuming class in Asia by 2030. This will create a huge surge in demand for goods and services like education, creative industries and luxury goods will increase, all areas of British expertise and strength. We joined with South Korea’s largest department store to promote 16 British brands during the 2012 Olympics, which boosted sales of those goods by £31 million.

We have identified 100 High Value Opportunities for UK businesses around the world, a third of which are in Asia. Through our global network of Embassies, we can provide UK businesses with support to access these opportunities – which are worth billions and range from major infrastructure, manufacturing and engineering projects, to big supply or value chain opportunities.


Asia and the UK are indeed “partnering for prosperity”.

This Government is making a strong case for Britain as a home for Asian investment and our initiatives to increase exports are already paying dividends. We are working in partnership with Asian countries and networks across a range of issues that is expanding constantly.

Even so, we should strive to continually improve – because Asia will not just be important in the future, it is critically important now.

Countries that fail to recognise this will miss out, and I am determined to ensure that Britain is not one of them.

Further information

Find out more about the UK’s work Strengthening UK relationships in Asia, Latin America and Africa to support UK prosperity and security

Follow Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire on twitter @HugoSwire

Follow the Foreign Office on twitter @foreignoffice

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Published 11 July 2013