Stronger ties with Asean set to offer boost for Britain's security strategy

Indonesia's prominent standing in South-East Asia cannot be underestimated, expert says

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo speaks to the media during the Asean summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Indonesia will take over the presidency of Asean in 2023. AP
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Strengthening ties with Indonesia would be a major boost for Global Britain, given the country’s prominent standing in South-East Asia, a foreign policy expert has said.

As the archipelago of islands prepares to take over the presidency of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) in 2023, talk of the UK’s tilt towards the Indo-Pacific is heating up.

Indonesia is at the heart of such conversations, as the nation’s standing on the world stage was elevated by its presidency of the Group of 20.

Jurgen Haacke, associate professor at the department of international relations at the London School of Economics, said the “pre-eminent standing of Indonesia within South-East Asia” for the past few decades cannot be ignored.

He made the comments while speaking before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on updates to the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

“What Indonesia offers the UK is, of course, a different vision of regional order than perhaps some other countries would advocate and is one that is closely connected to what Asean does,” he said.

“Because it's Indonesia that really propagates the sort of Asean-centric vision which has been in place for a while and is also an advocate of a particular model of security, which focuses on co-operative security and common security in ways that maybe other models do not.

“The Integrated Review of course gave some space to us as an important element of what the UK position should be like in the future.

The UK government has been urged to boost ties with Jakarta. Photo: Alamy

“But I think there are particular challenges in the case of Indonesia also resulting from the focus that Indonesia now has on the Asean outlook, on the Indo-Pacific, which is the kind of response that Jakarta would like to offer to the strategic situation in which the whole region, and of course Indonesia, finds itself.

“That may be something that is difficult, though the UK supports it, but difficult to actually actualise or help Indonesia support.

“One needs to look at it in terms of if the UK wants to offer something to the region, then it can do in relation to Asean as an organisation.

“It may also be about supporting Indonesia’s cause on the AOIP [Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific] but it has to be said that what is on offer here is not necessarily seen as equally important from the view of other members of Asean.”

Asean, founded in 1967, is made up of 10 nations — Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam.

At the first Asean-UK Post Ministerial Conference in Cambodia in August, both sides agreed on the first plan of action which outlines their shared priorities across political, security, economic and global issues over the next five years.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson described the Integrated Review as “the largest review of its kind since the Cold War”.

Published in March 2021, the paper lays out the Conservative government’s vision for Global Britain, a term which was coined to describe the country’s role on the world stage following its exit from the European Union.

It focuses largely on the UK’s national security and international policy.

Britain is working with allies to build up links with countries in the Indo-Pacific region, where the Aukus deal forms part of a collective effort to counter the rise of China.

Updated: November 22, 2022, 6:08 PM