From Benign Neglect to Effective Re-engagement? Assessing British Strategizing and Policies Towards Southeast Asia Since 2010
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 41, Number 3, December 2019
- pp. 329-363
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- Additional Information
Against the backdrop of debates about the UK's ability to design and implement grand strategy or effective regional strategies, this article examines the nature, coherence and effectiveness of Britain's recent re-engagement with Southeast Asia. The article makes three main arguments. First, British re-engagement vis-à-vis Southeast Asia has been multi-dimensional in character with an emphasis on defence and economic diplomacy, alongside efforts to achieve a separate new dialogue partnership with ASEAN. Second, the recent notable increase in the Royal Navy's presence in Southeast Asia and the surrounding region not only reflects the "Global Britain" narrative of Conservative Party policymakers, but also builds on more longstanding security and alliance considerations and institutional support that preceded the June 2016 Brexit referendum. Third, while British strategizing and policies may in the longer term yield the outcomes the UK wants, the effectiveness of the country's re-engagement for now is to some extent in question. In particular, UK policymakers and officials continue to struggle in taking forward and convincingly communicating an integrated and aligned strategy vis-à-vis Southeast Asia that is embedded in a wider regional approach.