Is Brexit bringing Britain back to Southeast Asia?


UK-ASEAN Business Council (UK-ABC) Lunch Meeting.

The simple answer to the question is: no.

Britain’s Post-Brexit plan for a “Global Britain” foreign policy is just an effort to escape from the reality that even until eight weeks before the actual withdrawal (or the scheduled withdrawal on March 29, 2019), the UK has not yet secured a deal on how to leave the European Union. Pretty bad, is it?

Britain, according to Haacke and Breen (2018), has several choices if it wants to re-engage Southeast Asia. Among those choices are trade, military, or establishment of formal relations as a dialogue partner.

I would say that the chance is very thin. Even Jeremy Hunt’s (UK current Foreign Secretary) visit to Malaysia and Singapore on early January 2019 did not make a hit on regional news.

As Ying Staton puts it, many Southeast Asians see Brexit as UK’s “remarkable act of self-harm.”

Therefore, what does it mean for Britain?

Secondly, ASEAN will be the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030. It was, is, and will still be the “hub in the movement of international goods.” If the UK really wants to go back to Southeast Asia, Britain has to offer something that ASEAN’s immediate neighbors and other great powers, like China and the US, do not or cannot offer.

Thirdly, in 2015, ASEAN’s export to the UK accounted for only 1.5% out of ASEAN’s total export globally. With only 1.5% share in ASEAN’s total export globally, UK’s withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) will not affect ASEAN-EU FTA that much. Comparatively speaking, a market as appealing as the United States — that, by the way, pulled out of TPP negotiation — did not hinder the remaining TPP 11 members to proceed the negotiation and stroke the deal; let alone a country that serves as the destination of only 1.5% of ASEAN’s total export globally.


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