James Cleverly has arrived in Japan for a G7 foreign ministers’ summit to promote a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, as the UK government steps up its focus on the region after Brexit.
The foreign secretary and his counterparts from countries including the US and France will hold high-level talks on closer security and defence ties in the face of China’s growing assertiveness in the Pacific.
The government’s updated integrated review last month reinforced a post-Brexit “tilt” towards the region as a “permanent pillar” of British foreign policy to create a democratic counterweight to China.
The visit comes after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, prompted concern last week on a flight back from China by suggesting that Europe should not get dragged into a US-Beijing confrontation over Taiwan. British officials have stressed that the situation is of global concern.
The UK last month joined the 11-member strong Asia-Pacific trade bloc that includes Japan and Australia after nearly two years of negotiations, as part of a push to agree worldwide trade deals after leaving the European Union.
However, critics say the impact will be limited, with official estimates suggesting it will add just £1.8bn a year to the economy after 10 years, representing less than 1% of UK GDP.
China, which is already part of an alternative Pacific trade deal, has applied to join, but the Guardian understands that the UK is among member states that would be likely to veto this, while the US pulled out of the agreement on Donald Trump’s first day in office in 2017.
Cleverly will travel on to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand on his first visit to the region since the UK joined the trade partnership, and the first tour of some of the islands by a British foreign secretary since the 1970s, and officials said he will offer support on tackling climate change.
He is expected to announce that the UK will join the US, Japan and Australia as a member of the Blue Dot Network, which certifies high-quality infrastructure projects in the developing world to enable them to attract private investment, as a strategic balance to China’s “belt and road” initiative across Africa.
Ahead of his arrival, the foreign secretary said: “With increasing competition in the region, it is more important than ever that we promote a free and open Indo-Pacific. It is critical to the UK, to our economy, our security and our values.
“Throughout my visit, I will build on commitments to our friends across the Pacific nations in their bid to promote peace and prosperity in the region.”
The G7 foreign ministers in Karuizawa, including the US’s Antony Blinken and France’s Catherine Colonna, are also expected to focus on support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion at the three-day summit ahead of the G7 leaders’ summit in Hiroshima in May.
The FCDO published a Japanese manga-style cartoon strip of Cleverly’s visit, which shows him stepping off the plane in Tokyo saying, “Made it!” and arriving at the G7 summit in Karuizawa on a bullet train emblazoned with the word “Wwhooosshhh!”
It is the third time Cleverly has visited Japan. His relationship with the country goes back to 2010, when as a deputy mayor for young people at Boris Johnson’s City Hall, he was the most senior politician available when a delegation from Tokyo arrived one quiet Friday afternoon seeking advice on their bid for the 2020 Olympics.
Although surprised to be asked by officials to meet the visiting dignitaries, he answered their multiple questions about how London had won the 2012 Games, stressing the focus on communities, legacy and facilities, and sharing ideas for Tokyo.
Cleverly thought little more about it until three years later when Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Games, and he was invited to lunch by the Japanese ambassador to London, who told him his off-the-cuff advice had been instrumental in their success, and invited him to Japan as a thank-you.
Source : TheGuardian