Britain warned it risks alienating Middle East with Pacific tilt

Foreign Affairs Committee advises government not to ignore regions with strong ties to UK

MPs have warned the UK should not ignore allies in the Middle East. PA
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Britain risks alienating the Middle East with its strategic tilt towards the Indo-Pacific, an influential parliamentary committee has warned.

An in-depth Foreign Affairs Committee report on the decision to invest more security and economic focus on the China-dominated region said the government should take care such a move does not sacrifice relationships with other regions.

“While we support a stronger foreign-policy focus on the Indo-Pacific region, it should not be achieved at the expense of regions where we have historic and pressing commitments, in particular the Middle East,” the report said.

The committee also criticised the government’s use of the word “tilt”, with regard to the shift of focus, as it could have a negative impact on other regions.

“The ‘tilt’ may have had the negative side-effect of eliciting a feeling of neglect in areas that appeared to have been tilted away from, like the Middle East,” the MPs said in the report titled Tilting Horizons.

“While we support a stronger foreign policy focus on the Indo-Pacific region, it should not be achieved at the expense of regions where we have historic and pressing commitments, in particular the Middle East.”

It also quoted Harry Halem, an expert from the Cambridge Middle East and North Africa Forum, who said while the Indo-Pacific was of “vital importance” to British foreign policy, “a tilt to the Middle East is more apt for British capabilities”.

Britain should instead use its diplomatic and political leverage to manage the rivalry between India and Pakistan, he added.

In a recent interview with The National, Alicia Kearns, the committee’s chairwoman, was highly critical of the government’s decision.

“I feel the tilt to the Indo-Pacific was a tilt away from the Middle East and there hasn’t been sufficient focus on the Middle East and North Africa,” she said.

“The reality is that a lot of Gulf states are looking to step up on the world stage, particularly Saudi Arabia, which is looking to see itself as a leader of the Islamic world, and we need to make sure we’re part of those conversations.

“We have historic commitments and friends across the Middle East and we know the UK’s voice matters in the Middle East.”

The report was also critical of the government’s “inability to set out clearly the long-term objectives and desired outcomes of the tilt”.

This was either in a written strategy or in evidence to the committee.

“This risks failing to meaningfully deter the threats to UK sovereignty from a more aggressive People’s Republic of China and hinders the ability of the UK to take full advantage of the opportunities of greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific,” the report said.

Ms Kearns argued that strengthening ties in the Indo-Pacific was “critical” because “if the West leaves a vacuum, China will eagerly fill it”.

“Resilience and deterrence must be at the core of our foreign policy. Concentrations of power can easily end up in the wrong hands,” she added.

“Diversifying our supply chains, particularly our supply of semiconductors, will protect us in the long term.”

Updated: August 29, 2023, 11:01 PM