A common denominator between European countries is importance of ASEAN.

London: An idea that was articulated in India in April is taking shape across Europe. Now Britain’s forward thinking think-tank, Policy Exchange is advocating an Indo-Pacific Charter. Former Canadian Prime Minister and economist, Stephen Harper chaired an Indo-Pacific Commission representing the UK, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to offer a vision that will secure a peaceful, rules-based order and protect democratic values in the Indo-Pacific region. The forward by Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, who first began discussing the concept of the “Indo-Pacific,” in 2007 adds gravitas to the argument for British engagement. Lord Johnson of Marylebone, three times former UK Minister of State, Financial Times South Asia Bureau Chief and the Prime Minister’s brother told The Sunday Guardian exclusively, “Today it is increasingly the Indo-Pacific that holds the keys to global stability and prosperity. The leading powers of Europe and North America understand this and want to engage strongly and deeply in that region, to support its free and sustainable development. This is why in recent times we’ve seen the US, France, Germany and shortly the UK—we trust, following our Policy Exchange report—developing Indo-Pacific strategies. We now need clarity and focus to make strategic choices that will stabilize this new fulcrum of global order.

“This is a pivotal moment in the geopolitics of the region: a new age of Indo-Pacific strategic relationships beckons, one that ties in these external partners. But it needs to be placed on a solid basis from the beginning, one that can withstand geopolitical crises. A willingness by regional nations to take the initiative and back an Indo-Pacific Charter at point in the history of the region, would be, first of all, a powerful signal of their firm intent of cooperating with each other. This step would, in turn, establish powerful foundations for long-term alliance-building in the region with a major involvement of external partners including the UK.

“Importantly, the report issued by our Policy Exchange Indo-Pacific Commission is very clear that this initiative must have regional buy-in and be driven and owned by regional players. Indo-Pacific nations have a great opportunity here to formalise a consensus around a jointly-accepted declaration of principles that can be as significant in the twenty-first century as the 1941 Atlantic Charter was to international affairs in the twentieth century.

“This, we feel, would give Britain—and others—the confidence to apply to the full its strategic heft in support of its regional friends and allies who back the principles in this Charter as the foundation for an updated vision of peaceful and cooperative relations between Indo-Pacific countries, leading to the maintenance of a stable geopolitical order and a free and open region.”

The report calls for UK to follow suit with France, Germany and the Netherlands and promulgate a standalone “Indo-Pacific Strategy” to counter risks accelerated by the pandemic posed by illiberal actors and that “regional countries should take the lead in shaping a clear set of mutually shared aspirations for the future of Indo-Pacific relations that other major global players like the UK can support. There is an opportunity for creating a consensus around a jointly-accepted declaration of principles that can be as significant in the 21st century as the Atlantic Charter was to international affairs in the 20th century… From a political standpoint a willingness by IPR nations to take the initiative and back an Indo-Pacific Charter at this point in the history of the region would be, first of all, a powerful signal of their firm intent of cooperating with each other.”

One common denominator between the European countries is the importance of ASEAN countries. It seems they recognise the key role and cooperative example of ASEAN in Indo-Pacific affairs that promotes regional peace and stability. The Commission urges UK to obtain Dialogue Partner status with ASEAN with a view to joining the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus and the Association of South East Asian Nations Regional Forum. Germany considers ASEAN nations their most critical ally in the IPR.

With most of the globe’s growth over the next decades concentrated in the IPR region, it is in UK’s national and economic interest to support the Indo-Pacific Charter; this chimes with Boris Johnson’s previous efforts towards a Global Britain, now is the time for these efforts to become plans with political support.

France says any crisis or conflict in the IPR is likely to affect adversely the interests of Europe as well as France’s. France’s Armed Forces consider the Indo-Pacific as an area spanning from Africa’s eastern façade to French Polynesia; the issue of freedom of civil and military circulation concerns ocean maritime, sub-ocean and airspace. France wishes to contribute to the building of a regional security architecture. France has especially taken steps to work closer with the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting. As well as military security and peacekeeping in the IPR France has a strong commitment to environmental challenges and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.

The German Federal Government seeks to strengthen multilateralism by supporting open markets in the entire region characterised by the Indian Ocean and the Pacific; disruption to supply chains to and from Europe would have serious consequences for the prosperity of and provision for the German population. Germany exported €28 billion of goods to ASEAN countries in 2019, while the Netherlands was the largest importer of goods from ASEAN countries with a value of €30 billion.

The Netherlands strategy is published in Dutch but they call on the European Union to develop a unique vision of the Indo-Pacific and it seems Chinese militarisation of the IPR concerns the Netherlands, the Dutch goal is an observer role in Code of Conduct negotiations between China and the ASEAN countries. A speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte compared the multilateral liberal world order created after 1945 to a man-made garden. “A place of order, where we could avoid the chaos of another world war. And where prosperity came within reach of more people than ever before. But a garden needs maintenance or it will be reclaimed by the jungle.” And in Jakarta, Rutte said a new generation is working to strengthen the future bond between the Netherlands and Indonesia.

China’s blue water incremental ambitions and economic hegemony have changed the landscape. The IPR is the most significant geopolitical theatre of the C21st. It contains some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, concentrates 60% of the world population. UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands all have citizens in the IPR; one third of international trade passes through the South China Sea and 25% through the Strait of Malacca. Since China began throwing its weight around, the IPR is in flux, an area of disputed boundaries, and terrorism networks that could disrupt global supply chains. In Australia in 2017, as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there was nowhere more exciting than the Indo-Pacific. It is time UK acted on intention, and that those in Whitehall and Parliament who have a genuine understanding of the aspects of the situation make sure the Indo-Pacific Charter becomes a reality.