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ASEAN Countries: UK Relations

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2020

We are very much strengthening our relations with the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Last month, I had a meeting with the ASEAN Secretary-General. I have also met all ASEAN ambassadors to London. The Foreign Secretary visited Vietnam in September and met ASEAN Foreign Ministers. Last week, I was in the Philippines and met Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin, among others.

I welcome the Minister’s meeting in the Philippines. He knows that our relationship with the Philippines is not just about security and defence, but extends to the 30,000 healthcare workers in this country who came from the Philippines. May I press him on the conversations that he has had with the Government in Manila about those 30,000 workers and how we can strengthen the healthcare relationship?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that. While I was in Manila last week, I met a range of Cabinet Secretaries, including the Health Secretary and the Foreign Minister, as I said, and the British Red Cross. As my hon. Friend knows, there is currently a ban on Filipino nurses leaving the country. They are fantastic, committed health workers and we are very grateful to the 30,000 of them in the national health service. I am pleased to report that we managed to secure important progress in that regard. Following the discussions that I had with the Health Secretary, the Philippines President has confirmed that he will lift the ban, allowing our NHS to recruit these highly skilled and excellent health service workers.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s efforts with ASEAN and his emphasis on the Indo-Pacific. He will no doubt have seen the fantastic Policy Exchange report by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho), who has been instrumental in emphasising some of these points. Does he agree that this tilt towards the Asia-Pacific is fundamental to defending democracies in the region, to ensuring that British interests are valued and to respecting the individual rights of countries that for too long have been pressed by China to come within a different orbit?

I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his question. He is absolutely right, and I also applaud the work of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey in this regard. Our tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region as part of the integrated review is testimony to how much we value that part of the world. There are a number of issues that we will raise with China. We are concerned in particular about issues involving the South China sea, and these are conversations that we have regularly with China. I made our legal position on that very clear here at the Dispatch Box a couple of months ago. Our support in that area has been widely supported by our ASEAN friends.