The Global Britain policy, which signals a UK foreign policy shift to Asia, is not surprising. Many other countries have already announced that they are shifting attention toward the Indo-Pacific, as has become the geopolitically fashionable way to refer to the Asia Pacific. There was the US Pivot to Asia under the administration of Barack Obama, which morphed into an Indo-Pacific strategy. This now includes the upgrading of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad, grouping Australia, India, Japan and the US in what members appear to hope evolves from its current focus on vaccine diplomacy, climate change, supply chains and infrastructure development into a robust Indo-Pacific regional security framework.
Even countries as far-flung from the region as France, Germany, the Netherlands have put forward Indo-Pacific strategies. The EU launched one in April, with officials hastening to qualify it as not anti-China. In the UK, the talk has been more about a “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific though a full-fledged strategy may yet emerge. Canada, meanwhile, is reported to have been mulling an Indo-Pacific strategy for some time but has yet to release it. Notably, G7 host Johnson invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea and India to participate (the Indian PM joining virtually) in the summit in Cornwall, a clear indication that Indo-Pacific issues and China will be high on the agenda.
Japan was the first to articulate the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP), while India has formulated its Look East Policy and South Korea its New Southern Policy. All of these constructions underline the importance of Asia – and arguably Southeast Asia, though the term “ASEAN centrality” does not often get more than a cursory nod – in the global geopolitical calculations of many countries who are in some ways rediscovering the region in light of China’s rise and more robust foreign policy – witness, the South China Sea.
These pivots to Asia have resulted in a more dynamic security landscape in the region. The Quad’s rapid elevation to greater prominence is a part of this. It had begun as a group to coordinate the humanitarian response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2004. After predecessor Donald Trump and his secretary of state Mike Pompeo built it up in the context of the US-China strategic competition, US President Joe Biden quickly took the initiative to host the quartet’s first summit, albeit virtual, in March. In their “Spirit of the Quad” joint statement, the leaders made their China motive very clear, committing to “collaboration, including in maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas”.
Meanwhile, ASEAN has kept its frameworks for regional-security dialogue such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+) and the inclusive ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) active even as attention has focused on the Quad, due to the promotion efforts of Washington, Tokyo and Canberra. (As for India, military border clashes with China have enhanced Delhi’s interest in the Quad.) The ADMM+, which marked its 10th anniversary last year and include the US and China as members (as they are of the ARF), has become an important ASEAN-led framework for security with major powers in the region. It provides an avenue to discuss important security matters, including the South China Sea, and a platform for maritime security cooperation.