By SADAYASU SENJU, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — Ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region “has become more important” to U.K. foreign policy after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in an interview Tuesday.
Cleverly, visiting Japan for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral, spoke with Nikkei at the British Embassy in Tokyo in his first interview with Japanese media.
Stressing the U.K.’s commitment to strengthening its “already good relationships with Japan,” Cleverly said his country is ready to work with partners to alleviate food and energy shortages exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
“The U.K. will continue to focus on a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region,” Cleverly said. “I have no doubt that that will continue to be a very, very important part of the British foreign policy for the foreseeable future” because of “Russia’s actions in Ukraine.”
The U.K.’s most recent Integrated Review, a comprehensive outline of security and foreign policy, emphasizes a “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific. The document is set to be revised this year under Prime Minister Liz Truss’s new government inaugurated this month.
Cleverly is also scheduled to travel to South Korea and Singapore on his three-day trip.
The U.K., alongside the U.S. and the European Union, has been a major driver of support for Ukraine, leading some observers to see engagement with Asia falling further down London’s priority list. But Cleverly argued that partnerships with Japan and other Indo-Pacific countries are increasingly important in light of Russia’s export bans on energy and food.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reinforced the importance of our relationship with Japan and with Asia more generally,” on issues such as “energy security, on economic security, on greater economic cooperation on Japanese inward investment into the U.K. or things like renewable energy,” Cleverly said.
“We need to make sure we protect alternative energy sources, renewable energy sources, so that we can’t be coerced by the use of gas, for example,” he said. “And also we need to ensure that we protect food supplies coming out of Ukraine for the developing world, so that parts of the world that are currently feeling hunger are not used as a tool of Russia’s military ambitions in Ukraine.”
Asked about the U.K.’s relationship with China, its third-largest trading partner behind the U.S. and Germany, Cleverly stressed the important economic ties between the two countries. But he also raised concerns about human rights issues criticized by Europe and the U.S., saying London is “uncomfortable” with Beijing’s record in Xinjiang and its relationship with Hong Kong.
“We will always want to see a successful economic relationship with China,” he said. “But we also make it very, very clear that we will be critical of China when we disagree with its actions, and we will encourage China to take a more positive course of action as well.”
Cleverly declined to speculate on the U.K.’s response to a hypothetical future invasion of Taiwan by China.
The U.K. has long held the position that “we don’t support any unilateral change to the status quo,” he said. But “the relationship between China and Taiwan is one that they will have to negotiate between them, and it’s not something that the U.K. would seek to change.”
Looking closer to home, Cleverly suggested that London is not inclined to join the European Political Community, a broad grouping of nations proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We don’t feel necessarily that we need to be a member of more institutions in the European sphere to continue a good working relationship with Europe,” he said.