The UK and South East Asia

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne spoke to the Office of the Council of Ministers in Phnom Penh about the UK's relationship with ASEAN.

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

Excellency Tekreth Samrech, Secretary of State of the Office of the Council of Ministers and High Representative of HE Sok An, other Excellencies and distinguished guests, I am extremely grateful to the Office of the Council of Ministers for hosting this event with the Royal Academy of Cambodia and to his Excellency the Secretary of State for his introductory remarks.
I am delighted to be here in Phnom Penh today on my first visit to Cambodia. After just one day here, I am struck by the immense progress that your country has made in a short period of time. Decades of conflict and turmoil in the second half of the twentieth century devastated Cambodia and its people. So it is truly heartening and impressive to see how over the last twenty years, peace and stability have returned to your beautiful country and provided the foundation for economic growth and prosperity.

Britain has consistently supported Cambodia on its path towards sustainable and democratic development during this period. We have provided a substantial volume of development assistance, and continue to play an active role in the fields of health, de-mining, sustainable development, and human rights. Going forward, we will continue to support efforts to build capacity and skills, improve governance and promote democracy.
Statistics clearly show how quickly our ties have developed. Trade between Cambodia and the UK has grown fourfold in the last five years. Over 100,000 British tourists visit Cambodia each year. And Cambodia is now the biggest recipient of UK demining funding in the world. We will work to ensure that these ties continue to grow.


In my remarks today, I would like to concentrate not only on my country’s relationship with Cambodia, but with ASEAN as a whole - whose Chairmanship is held here this year. So let me give you the view of Minsters from London and our vision for relations with this part of the world.

When this government came to power a little over two years ago, we committed to investing more resources in our relationships with the emerging powers of the world - the places that were driving global economic and political development.

Nowhere is this more evident than in South East Asia. Not only are countries here growing quickly, you are also playing an increasingly important role on the world stage. This is a fact that we welcome and encourage. After all, ASEAN has a population bigger than both the European Union and the United States. And its combined GDP would put it in the world’s top ten economies.

This is why - despite global economic difficulty - we have been investing scarce resources in our relationships here. So far, we have expanded our diplomatic network in the region by over forty staff; we are reopening our embassy in Vientiane - closed for 27 years - so we will be represented in every ASEAN state; and already more Ministers have visited ASEAN countries this year than at any time in the last twenty years - including our Prime Minister, David Cameron, and our Foreign Secretary, William Hague.
So while there remains uncertainty in global markets - especially considering the recent difficulties in the Eurozone - we are confident that by increasing our trade abroad, and by tackling economic challenges at home, we can restore growth and confidence.

The difficulties in Europe stem from anxiety about the scale of national debts and about the ability of states to pay those debts. However, my government has taken bold but necessary steps to significantly curb our deficit. This has made our commitment to reducing our debt credible with the markets, and our economy remains a relative safe haven for investment.

We are not a member of the European Single Currency but remain a willing and active participant in the European Union, and are fully supportive of efforts to find a solution to the Eurozone’s troubles. We have benefitted hugely from the European Single Market and will continue to do so.
Restoring confidence in the markets will require restoring growth. We believe that will need to involve deepening and widening the Single Market, promoting EU-wide innovation, and cutting burdensome regulation. Most importantly, we must give a real push to trade and cooperation with the states and regions that are developing fastest.

This is the backdrop for my own visit here, and indeed for all our business with this special part of the world. Britain wants to cooperate more closely and widely with ASEAN as an organisation and with each member state of ASEAN individually. This desire is based on four cornerstones of rationale, which I will address in turn:

First, many of today’s challenges require coordinated multilateral responses;

Second, economic wellbeing and growth is dependent on free trade and openness;

Third, we face the same security threats and will be stronger at defending ourselves if we do so together;

Fourth, for peace, prosperity and partnerships to be sustainable, they need to be underpinned by common values, mutual understanding, and respect for human dignity.

So let me start by explaining why we find it so important to work more closely with ASEAN as a grouping of countries.

Most of the fundamental challenges that we face are ones that affect everyone together and cannot be solved by anyone alone: regulating the world economy; tackling climate change; preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons; preparing for natural disasters.

Britain cannot solve these problems by itself. Neither can Cambodia, or China or even the United States. However, if the UK coordinated action with the rest of the EU, Cambodia coordinated action with the rest of ASEAN, and the EU and ASEAN coordinated action together, we could begin to have a meaningful impact.

These two regional organisations are the most integrated that the world has to offer. I believe that each can learn much from the other’s experiences and expertise - as proved by the second EU-ASEAN Business Summit, held here in Phnom Penh in April, as well as through regular visits and exchanges between EU and ASEAN institutions and member states.

Although the countries of the European Monetary Union are currently experiencing difficulties, our integration project has generally been a great success. Our companies have benefitted hugely from having access to the largest single market in the world. So efforts to create a single economic community in ASEAN should be considered to be extremely encouraging.
But beyond economics, political coordination to address mutual problems is also important. The EU has managed to coordinate action to reduce greenhouse emissions, to forestall nuclear proliferation in the Middle East though sanctions against Iran, and to bring about democratic change in our neighbourhood.

We have found that we are stronger together. But this truism does not only hold among immediate neighbours. Strong partnerships with countries and organisations around the world make all sides stronger. So it is our determined desire for us to work more closely with ASEAN as a whole, both through our own government and through the EU.

That is why our Foreign Secretary, William Hague was so keen to attend the EU-ASEAN ministerial meeting in Brunei in April. And it is why Britain will advocate increasingly close ties between our organisations in the future.

So we recognise that cooperation can have big payoffs. This is perhaps most immediately obvious in the realm of trade and investment - the second cornerstone of our engagement with the region.

When considering emerging markets, some people only speak of the BRICS. Of course, individually, countries like China and Brazil have massive economies that can’t be ignored. But ASEAN, which continues its process of economic integration, has a combined economy much larger than India, Russia or South Africa and a higher growth rate to match. There is no doubt, that if ASEAN were a country, it would be a BRIC.

The high levels of growth that have been sustained across South East Asia over recent decades are nothing short of miraculous. This success has demonstrated what can be achieved through free trade. States here have truly grasped the principles of openness that will drive growth in the 21st century. You have harnessed the power of globalisation, taking advantage of global flows of goods, knowledge and capital.

This is precisely the strategy that my country wishes to emulate. We recognise that growth is a positive sum game from which we can all benefit. George Osborne, our Chancellor has challenged us to double our exports - to one trillion pounds - by 2020.

We already export more to ASEAN members than we do to China, over twice as much as we export to India and over four times as Much as we export to Brazil. And we have ambitious plans to do more - not just with the biggest economies in ASEAN, but with every member state.

That is why we have just announced that we will open a new trade office here in Cambodia and are reopening our embassy in Laos. That is why we have targets to double trade with countries in this region over the next five years. And that is why are at the forefront of efforts to negotiate EU Free Trade Agreements with ASEAN collectively and its members individually.

Obviously, we are convinced of the diverse range of opportunities on offer here. But we are also convinced that Britain has much to offer the growing economies of South East Asia too. We are world leaders in education, financial services, and low-carbon and high-tech innovation - all of which will be vital to sustaining high growth rates and all of which have great potential for cooperation.

Education links between the UK and this region are already proliferating. Many British universities have strong links with universities here, and Nottingham University - where I was a student - has opened its own campus in Malaysia. My government is very keen to underscore this aspect of our relationship at a regional level by becoming an Associate Member of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation.
Links between universities are mirrored by strong links in research and development, science and innovation and all other aspects of the knowledge economy. The new UK/ASEAN Knowledge Partnership will be able to boost such links further.

So there are valuable opportunities for collaboration between British and South East Asian companies and institutions. But there are also great opportunities in Britain for your companies to take advantage of. Nearly half of all foreign investment into the EU is directed through our country and more overseas companies set up their European headquarters in the UK than anywhere else.

That isn’t surprising. We are quickly developing the most competitive tax regime for businesses in the entire G20. And we rank 7th in the world for ease of doing business.

So we can provide a springboard for your companies into the European Single Market - the biggest trading bloc in the world. But there are also plenty of opportunities for investment in our economy. One of the biggest investments in the UK last year was from SSI, the Thai steel manufacturer. And I am personally grateful for the investment of Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian CEO of AirAsia, into Queens Park Rangers - the football club that I support.

It is our desire to see more of your companies in our cities, more of your students in our universities, and more of your tourists in front of Buckingham Palace.

By creating more links between our countries, our companies and our citizens, we will be able to benefit from mutual growth and mutual prosperity.

However, prosperity can only be fully enjoyed in an environment of security and stability. Many threats are no longer geographically constrained. So in Britain, we highly value the strong cooperation that we enjoy with countries in this region on security issues.
Not only is it in our interests that there is peace and stability in this part of the world, we also want to show that we are committed to broad relationships here. Your concerns are our concerns.
So we are proud to play a role in the Mindanao peace process in the Philippines, in the Five Power Defence Arrangement with Singapore and Malaysia, in our defence engagement with Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam, in promoting maritime security and in helping with counter-terrorism efforts.

And I am delighted that our security cooperation with ASEAN is due to take a step up next week when the UK will accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and the P5 Protocol to the South East Asia Nuclear Free Weapons Zone will be completed. Both these momentous developments will take place here in Cambodia.

But we believe that there is further potential for cooperation. As valued partners, we would certainly welcome the engagement of ASEAN nations on security issues beyond your own immediate neighbourhood. For example, support for our efforts to make Iran meaningfully engage with the international community over its nuclear programme would be very much appreciated.

And last month at the Shangri La Defence Dialogue, Nick Harvey, our Minister for the Armed Forces, warned about rapidly evolving threats to cyber security. These range from terrorist radicalisation to intellectual property theft. Attacks and crimes can be carried out online anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.

A framework for dealing with these threats is only just being conceived. The governing rules of cyber space that the international community decides upon will shape the future of internet usage. So this must be a collective activity.

But in trying to protect our citizens from the dangers of the internet, we must not sacrifice their rights and freedoms. We need to find a way - together - of protecting our citizens from the dangers of the internet, while also maintaining online the rights and freedoms that they enjoy offline.

This brings me to the final cornerstone of our engagement with ASEAN: we share common values and a common commitment to those values.
I had the pleasure of representing Britain at the Bali Democracy Forum last December. I was struck by how much consensus there was among participants of the fundamental importance of transparent and accountable governance and protection of human rights for long term peace and prosperity.

The Arab Spring has graphically demonstrated to the world the universal desire of human beings for political and social freedom. It has also demonstrated the inherent instability of regimes that deny citizens their rights and freedoms.

But I also believe that South East Asia has demonstrated an equally important fact: that providing people with the freedom to express themselves, to think freely and to pursue their own ambitions, creates a creative and dynamic environment that is essential for long term growth.
Manufacturing goods that were invented elsewhere will only allow countries to develop so far. Long term development requires the innovation and entrepreneurship fostered by individual rights and freedoms.

I know that the ASEAN Charter makes clear the commitment of its member states to democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms. As an organisation, ASEAN can be a massive force for good in helping countries to embed these important practices and values. Indeed, the EU has been able to use its collective influence to raise the bar of human rights standards both among its members and its neighbours.

The Human Rights Declaration that will be presented to your Foreign Ministers at their meeting later this month could be an important step. By underlining ASEAN’s support for universal human rights values in its own declaration, ASEAN can set an important example to other countries in Asia and beyond.

Businesses also have an important role to play in protecting human rights. It is important that they are aware of their obligations and can act together to increase respect for the rights of workers in the marketplaces in which they operate. The United Nations has recently approved Guiding Principles which do just this.

The challenge now is to ensure that businesses and states follow these principles. My government hopes to cooperate with all countries - including ASEAN members - to raise awareness of the Guiding Principles and encourage their implementation.

I am delighted to announce that the British Government will be supporting a project in Cambodia to promote these Guiding Principles in the garment sector. In addition, this afternoon I will be opening a new British garments factory - Dewhirst - that is already putting these Principles into action.

Like all ASEAN members, we recognise that each country has the right to develop in its own way and in accordance with its own culture and traditions. But that is not to say that we in the international community cannot help and empower states to create the building blocks of transparent and accountable government. After all, we are agreed that in the long term, the spread of political and social rights is in the interests of everyone.

So I hope that Britain and ASEAN will be able to work together to encourage change in the region that guarantees people’s rights, freedoms and dignity in ways that respect and fit with their own cultures, experiences and desires.

Today I have set out my country’s vision for its relationship with this region. It is ambitious and diverse. But we are committed, we are determined and we are here for good. As William Hague said in Singapore earlier this year, the Britain’s engagement in Asia is not an option, it is an imperative.

We think that the rise of South East Asia as a cohesive economic and political partnership of nations is an immensely positive trend, and one which we believe will intensify in the future. We want to share your successes and your challenges. We want to work with you - individually and collectively - to promote peace, prosperity and dignity for our own people, and for people all over the world.

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Published 3 July 2012