Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Mahitha Lingala*
When it comes to ‘Soft Power’, UK has a natural advantage over other countries. Key components of UK’s Soft Power include; Historical linkages with different parts of the world, The English language which is truly a global language, The city of London (important from a historical, cultural and financial point of view), it’s higher education system, which is the preferred choice of students from different parts of the world, or large immigrant communities from different parts of the world. A strong illustration of this point is the fact, that in the Portland Top 30 Survey, 2019 UK was ranked at number 2 (France was number 1), with culture, language and engagement being the key factors attracting people.
Post Brexit, UK will have to make effective use of this ‘Soft Power’ which would benefit the UK in forging economic ties especially with member states of ASEAN, as well as India (UK is looking at FTA’s with both ASEAN and India). UK’s post 2021 visa system (which is points based), seeks to draw professionals, from different parts of the world, would also benefit from UK’s Soft Power in different parts of the world. The current PM in his role as Mayor of London had attempted not just to showcase London, already a global city, but had also spoken in favor of a more open immigration system. One of the first steps, Johnson took as PM was to reverse the policy of allowing students only four months after the completion of their courses. Under Johnson, this period was revised to two years.
UK’s Soft Power and importance in the context of the Indo-Pacific
Beyond the above components of Soft Power, UK’s independent stance on foreign policy issues, at a time when complex foreign policy issues are viewed from simplistic binaries, can be an important component of its Soft Power.
The Boris Johnson government has given the go ahead to Huawei participation in it’s 5G Network. Even though, the participation is restricted to what is called ‘non-core infrastructure’ and participation is capped at 35%, members of the 5 Eye intelligence network have not been particularly pleased with the UK’s decision, this includes not just the US, but Australia as well.
Given its Soft Power, and approach on foreign policy issues, UK can play a particularly important role in Indo-Pacific. The post Brexit UK has been setting ground for trade deals with officials visiting ASEAN countries from 2016 to broker trade deals for after Brexit, this will encourage U.K’s re-engagement strategy in Asia. Historical ties have played a crucial role, apart from economic and strategic issues, in ensuring, that UK has maintained good relations with its former colonies. UK also opened a mission to ASEAN, in January 2020, with even the U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s first overseas visit being to ASEAN. These gestures do have a positive effect on UK’s soft power in the region, which is much more than any other foreign powers’.
Even in terms of security the UK has been slowly aligning its views with that of India and the Quad. UK seems to be keen to participate in the Indo-Pacific strategy,as the region is important for UK’s trade and, India plays a crucial role in the region.
UK’s relevance for the Indo-Pacific
UK brings a number of important aspects to the table. First, the US thrust of the ‘Indo Pacific Strategy’ seems to be targeting China while a number of countries, which are part of the initiative are not comfortable, with the sole aim of countering China. This includes countries like India and Sri Lanka (of late even Japan’s ties with China have improved). Apart from this, a number of ASEAN states are keen to further the agenda of the Indo-Pacific, but do not want to keep it China centric . They have even backed India’s role in the region which is an indication of India’s rise.
While UK may not have the economic heft, but it can use its ‘Soft Power’ effectively to emerge as an important player within the Indo-Pacific. While the US has spoken about funding infrastructure, technology and encouraging private sector investment in Indo-Pacific. UK can encourage professionals from Indo-Pacific countries (including from South Asia and South East Asia) under its new visa regulations. Apart from this, it can target more students from the Indo-Pacific region (ASEAN, South Asian countries as well as Africa) to attend British Universities
In conclusion, while UK is likely to face a number of economic challenges post Brexit, it’s Soft Power can be an important tool for furthering it’s economic and strategic interests. UK can also emerge as an important stakeholder, within the Indo-Pacific while not totally toeing the US line.
*Mahitha Lingala is a student at OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India