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Defence Relationships: South East Asia

Volume 671: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

6. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of the UK’s defence relationships in south-east Asia. (900541)

The UK continues to have a strong defence relationship with south-east Asia. We maintain a garrison in Brunei and have kept a persistent naval presence in the region since 2018. We work with many countries in the region to help to improve regional security and build capacity. This is done both bilaterally and multilaterally, including through the five power defence arrangements, the only formal defence agreement in the whole region.

Given the importance of the South China sea, not only as a major navigation route but as a source of a growing number of intra-nation disputes, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK has a vital role to play in ensuring freedom of navigation, providing defence and cyber solutions to south-east Asia, and boosting that five-nation power arrangement, as part of our deepening relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations?

I agree with my hon. Friend. If any part of the world is a place where the international rules-based system is being threatened, it is in Asia and across the Pacific and the South China sea. That is why we want to strengthen and continue to work with the five power defence arrangements, to work with many of the countries in the region, and to deepen our bilateral relationship with ASEAN member states.

On the one hand, the Government have rightly been challenging China’s aggressive military actions in the seas around south-east Asia, yet on the other hand, despite the Secretary of State himself having reportedly branded China a “friend of no one”, the Government have granted Huawei significant access to the superhighways of our cyber and telecoms systems. Will the Secretary of State clarify exactly what his Government’s strategy in relation to China is?

The Government’s strategy towards China is that we treat it in a way that befits its actions but measure our response when China does things that we do not like. For example, we test freedom of navigation in the Pacific but also seek to listen to the experts when it comes to issues such as Huawei. That is why the Government made the choice last week to allow Huawei to have a limited amount of the 5G market. Our policy towards Huawei is to cap it, to ban it in other parts of the network, and to reduce over time our dependency on that company and others like it.