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Indo-Pacific Region: Diplomatic Relations

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

9. What progress his Department has made on improving economic relations with the Indo-Pacific region. [R] (906040)

As was made clear in the “Integrated Review Refresh” published a couple of months ago, the Government are committed to long-term economic and security partnerships with the Indo-Pacific. The Foreign Secretary was in Jakarta last week for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, meeting regional and global partners—the first Foreign Secretary ever to attend that meeting. This weekend we signed the agreement—there will be a discussion on this later—paving the way for the UK’s formal accession to the Indo-Pacific trade block, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which now covers an area with a total GDP of £12 trillion.

With AUKUS subs at Barrow and Team Tempest continuing to progress at Warton, the UK’s relationship with allies in Japan and Australia is not only defending our demographic values but creating jobs in Fylde and across the north-west. What assessment has the Minister made of the role the skills of those working in the defence manufacturing industry have played in developing diplomatic partnerships across Asia and the Pacific?

Our world-leading defence industrial base underpins our national security. British ingenuity and skills have therefore made us a sought-after partner, as is demonstrated by the global combat air programme with Japan and Italy and AUKUS with Australia and the United States. These enhanced partnerships will help us collectively to deliver better security for our citizens and allies. Moreover, AUKUS submarines will be based on the UK’s world-leading submarine design. This project will bring extensive new jobs and skills to the UK, as well as the opportunity to help Australia in particular to build up a new cohort of experts.

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Cambodia and Laos, may I ask what my right hon. Friend thinks the new and improving relationships in the Indo-Pacific region will mean for UK trade?

The Indo-Pacific is important to UK security and to prosperity. It is home to half the world’s people. At least 1.7 million British citizens live in the region, and given the new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and the improved relations resulting from the UK’s status as a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the importance of our relationships with the Indo-Pacific, including those with Cambodia and Laos—in which regard my hon. Friend’s work is hugely appreciated—will continue to present opportunities to the UK and, indeed, protect our security.

Tomorrow, Thailand’s Parliament will vote for a second time to choose a Prime Minister, following the May election won by the Move Forward party, which is now leading an alliance of eight parties opposed to the military junta that seized power in 2014. It is likely that Move Forward’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, will again be blocked from taking office by the 250 senators in the upper House, all of whom were appointed by the junta. While the UK may not be best placed to advise on the role of unelected second Chambers, our country is a good friend of the Thai people. What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the Thai authorities to let democracy take its course?

We welcomed Thailand’s strong show of support for democracy through the huge turnout in the May election, and we look forward to working with the new Administration. We continue to work closely, through our teams in Thailand, to support those who will make up the next parliamentary group.

I was pleased to hear the Minister talk about democracy in the Indo-Pacific area, but at present Prime Minister Modi seems to be a very popular man in countries around the world, including the United States and this country. Should we not look, laser-like, at his real record—for instance, his systematic persecution of Christians in India, and his takeover of press freedom and other civil liberties?

We have a close and enduring relationship with India. We talk of a living bridge between our countries, and we are working closely with India on our 2030 road map. However, as with all our international partners with which we have close links, we are happy to raise concerns, and we do so privately on a regular basis.