Anne-Marie Trevelyan is Minister for the Indo-Pacific and Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Last year, the Prime Minister asked me to step into a new role: Minister for the Indo-Pacific. My job was to help co-ordinate government and business to support the United Kingdom’s work in support of the collective security of the region, and to demonstrate to the world our understanding of its importance.
People sometimes ask me why, as a Euro-Atlantic country, is Britain so invested in the Indo-Pacific? When resources are finite and there is war in Europe, why are we so committed to nations and peoples on the other side of the world?
It’s simple: because it is in all our interests for the Indo-Pacific to be secure and stable, a region where trade routes remain open and countries can make choices in their own interests, free from interference and coercion, committed to respect for human rights and rule of law, and working with to address the most pressing global challenges of our time.
As an island nation and a global trading power, the UK is constantly focused on the seas and oceans. Some 60 per cent of global shipping trade passes through the region, and as over a third of Britain’s food is imported, the security of Indo-Pacific waters has a direct impact on households here. And not only here: globally, three billion people rely on the sea for their food security.
The Indo-Pacific is going to be critical to this country’s future prosperity; as the world’s centre of economic gravity shifts eastwards, it is projected to be generating more than half of global growth by 2050.
Building more diverse supply chains, reducing our dependence on hostile powers, and establishing partnerships in cutting-edge technologies all help to fortify our economic security now and in the future.
This is why maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific is at the heart of our long-term foreign policy strategy; partnerships such as those with Australia and Japan are already bringing benefits on a global scale. Our Integrated Review refresh set out our objectives: working in partnership to maintain the rules-based international order, whilst protecting our economies and trade routes.
We cannot take the Indo-Pacific for granted. Complex factors are reshaping the region and making it more unstable, and it is at the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition.
We are seeing a rise in coercive and aggressive practices, against a backdrop of an unprecedented rate of military modernisation; rapid technological change is transforming nations’ scope to project power and threaten their neighbours.
Beyond such geopolitics, the region is also threatened with some of the most extreme effects from global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss; some Pacific nations now face an existential threat from rising sea levels and extreme weather. Such issues can not only be devastating in themselves, but drive political instability and compound other dangers too.
We know that no single country can redress these challenges alone. So we are demonstrating our commitment to the Indo-Pacific through our partnerships, using all tools available to us. That might be through our trade and climate commitments, or diplomacy and aid funding to support empowerment of women and girls.
We want to share our expertise, including brilliant British research and innovation, with the world, and to demonstrate our willingness to not just talk about our values – freedom of expression, of religion, of choice – but enact them, and support others to do the same.
Equally, we want to learn from and empower our partners, such as by working with Indonesia and Vietnam on Just Energy Transition Partnerships to drive a clean energy future for the region.
We are developing an ambitious programme with our Southeast Asian partners to build capacity and boost training on issues from protecting the marine environment to upholding maritime law, and deepening our relationship with ASEAN as the anchor of regional cooperation. We are also working closely with Japan on a deeper strategic defence partnership, with Rishi Sunak signing the Reciprocal Access Agreement and Hiroshima Accord earlier this year.
By deepening our regional relationships, we want to provide effective support which allows every country to be strong enough to be free to make their own decisions, protecting their fishing fleets and Exclusive Economic Zones and ensuring they can exercise their sovereign rights to explore and exploit their natural resources for the benefit of their own citizens.
We know that countries can only thrive when they are safe and secure. So we are laser-focused on deepening our defence and security partnerships. Through AUKUS, we are working together to enhance our mutual and credible deterrence; in bolstering our defences, we will be helping maintain the region’s strategic balance.
We are supporting Australian development of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines because the underwater battlespace is the only remaining stealth environment. SSN-AUKUS will also be deployed by our Royal Navy as our next generation of attack submarines, to work across our Atlantic and NATO commitments as well as in the Indo-Pacific.
With Australia and the US, we will develop cutting-edge military technologies to ensure we are equipped to uphold international peace and security in the years ahead. This will strengthen British and Australian security but also have wider benefits in the region.
Successful deterrence is only demonstrated by inaction – that is, that malign actors choose not to attack. But investing in it also strengthens the resolve of others, who have greater confidence in our commitments to a world where sovereignty, human rights, and rule of law are respected.
As Australia continues to play an important role in tackling global challenges head on, we will work with them across the full breadth of our relationship: through AUKUS, on critical mineral supply chains, on renewable energy investments, on harnessing the power of our historic trade deal to build stronger mutual investments.
Why? Because it is the right thing to do to support our friends and allies, as we are doing in Ukraine, and because partnering with Australia and Japan helps us support a free and open Indo-Pacific, is inseparable from our own security and prosperity.