British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit India in April as part of his government’s tilt towards the Indo-Pacific under a comprehensive revamp of foreign and security policies in order to unlock new opportunities across the region.
The UK on Tuesday unveiled its widely anticipated integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, first announced after the 2019 election as “the most radical assessment of the UK’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War”.
The integrated review set out several shifts in foreign policy, including a tilt to the Indo-Pacific, and Johnson will visit India at the end of April to “unlock opportunities in the region”, an official statement said. Presenting the review in Parliament, Johnson said he will travel to India to “strengthen our ties with the world’s largest democracy”.
This will be Johnson’s first major international visit following Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
Johnson was earlier set to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in January, but called off the trip to remain in Britain to focus on the response to a new coronavirus variant. At the time, the UK announced Johnson hoped to visit India in the first half of 2021, and ahead of the UK’s G7 Summit in June that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to attend as a guest.
The British high commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, played a key part in drafting the integrated review in his previous role as deputy national security advisor.
The document described India-UK relations as “already strong” and said Britain will “seek transformation in our cooperation across the full range of our shared interests” over the next decade. It referred to India as an “international actor of growing importance” and spoke of the strong cultural links between the two sides, including 1.5 million British nationals of Indian origin.
India-UK trade more than doubled between 2007 and 2019, and the investment relationship supports more than half a million jobs in each other’s economies. “The ability to strike our own trade deals will allow us to grow our economic relationship further, including through increased bilateral investment flows,” the integrated review said.
“Our vision is for re-energised trade and investment, rooted in S&T and supporting levelling up in the UK and India alike; enhanced defence cooperation that brings a more secure Indian Ocean Region, building on the existing biannual Ministerial Defence Dialogues; and UK-India leadership to tackle global challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health,” it said.
A major step towards boosting ties will be the launch this year of the “Enhanced Trade Partnership”, which will act as a road map to a potential comprehensive trade deal.
With Britain looking at the Indo-Pacific as “increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world”, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will undertake its first operational deployment to the region this year. The UK is also applying for partner status at the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) as part of its foreign policy shift.
The deployment of Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s largest warship, and its strike task group to the Indian Ocean has been described by officials as the country’s “most ambitious deployment for two decades”.
The reset of Britain’s international priorities with deeper engagement with the Indo-Pacific is also aimed at creating a democratic counterweight to China. “China’s military modernisation and growing international assertiveness within the
Indo-Pacific region and beyond will pose an increasing risk to UK interests,” the integrated review said.
The UK will “do more to adapt to China’s growing impact on many aspects of our lives as it becomes more powerful”, and this includes investing in “enhanced China-facing capabilities” and improving Britain’s “ability to respond to the systemic challenge that [China] poses to our security, prosperity and values – and those of our allies and partners”, the document said.
The 114-page integrated review, which addressed issues related to national security, foreign policy and the global economy, is meant to implement Johnson’s “Global Britain” agenda.