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Jakarta Post

Great Britain takes a deep dive into the past and a strong pivot to the East

  • Phar Kim Beng and Iva Dim

London   /   Tue, February 9, 2021   /   01:15 am
Great Britain takes a deep dive into the past and a strong pivot to the East Four F-35B Lightning jets land on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first Carrier Sea Training. (UK Ministry of Defence/Courtesy of)

During these unprecedented times when the UK needs to redefine its place in the future of the mid- 21st century, they give the job of designing their Grand Strategy to none other than a historian. John Bew, a professor in history and foreign policy at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, is not the most obvious choice to lead this great strategy that will shape the post-Brexit era, but irony is after all an unmistakably British custom.

If Humphrey from the famous “Yes, Minister” show could teach us anything, it is that the UK was never truly a European loyalist, so it might be too optimistic to hope that Global Britain can find its footing as the bridge between America and Europe as proposed by Tony Blaire. With Merkel stepping down and Macron looking to fill her shoes and set course for the EU, the UK missed out on an opportunity to lead that metaphorical navy by jumping ship in the midst of a global storm.

Nonetheless, it might be too soon to pass judgment, as Prof. Bew might prove to be a sharp and strategic choice for his “ability to see the big picture”. So hold off on selling short the UK as he could very well muster a forward-thinking strategy, despite his nostalgic inspiration.

With each day passing the UK appears to make more deliberate its intentions to pivot east for the Indo-Pacific. This move is not unwise considering the region is of essential importance in terms of trade and security - especially now with China speeding up its progress in becoming the world’s leading economic power.

The UK has made a number of strategic moves to stretch its reach on the horizon, including the recent deployment of their aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in the Indo-Pacific. This ambitious deployment of the newly assigned flagship of the Royal Navy, marks a statement of British commitment to global security.

Beyond the military flexes and heavy investments, the UK has more openly spoken against Chinese practices in Xinjiang and other democratic values.

The volume was further turned up with the recent revoking of CGTN’s license to broadcast in the UK due to breaches of UK law against state-sponsored television and China’s request of BBC’s public apology - which is less than likely to happen. Therefore, we can expect this media war to proceed along with other digital and technological spats as China continues to plead innocent and shamelessly hide behind their wall of sovereignty.

So while the Global Britain grand strategy is still in formation, it appears that the intentions of the UK are to make a stronger stance on the world stage. We can expect that their first foreign policy agenda in over half a century will certainly put sterner pressure on China and recommit to their interests in the Indo-Pacific. Given Europe’s softer approach, it can be a wise move for the UK to reclaim its position as custodians of multilateral consensus and order despite the potential of antagonizing China in this process.

If China remains unchallenged we can expect it to unrelentingly expand its influence and reach. There is a growing consensus that the UK has a duty to stand up for its global partners and protect common interests. With the uncertainty around the US stability and their future place in the new world order.

So while the UK faces a difficult task at hand, during arguably the most turbulent era of the century, when even the strongest democracies face existential threats and the leading economies are brought to their knees by a global pandemic - Great Britain chose now for its identity crisis. However, the timing might prove to be a blessing in disguise as this will give the UK an opportunity to redefine its place in the world and how to face the new threats that are growing on the horizon.

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Phar Kim Beng is founder/CEO and Iva Dim is senior research fellow of Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena (strategicpipa.com)