11 July 2024

Finally, the UK has formulated a foreign policy that is pragmatic and deliverable, rather than rhetorical to please Western liberals. The latest elaboration by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is indeed very clever. He said that the UK is setting a new and more realistic diplomatic coursewith about two dozen countries, mainly mid-level income nations.

In a nutshell, the UK will develop multidimensional ties with countries that share the beliefs of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and free trade, which are rules-based.

According to political pundits in the UK, this will mean that the UK has to downgrade its commitment to human rights as a prerequisite for forging close relationships with others. In fact, it just shows that the UK is no longer in a position to demand that liberal values be fulfilled before any strengthening of bilateral ties. The much heralded “Global Britain” sounded hollow from the beginning. Luckily, English is still a global language.

The UK is wise to engage these moderate countries, otherwise they could be persuaded to side with nations that are the UK’s rivals. The new policy is the opposite to that of former prime minister Liz Truss, who wanted to promote a network of world-wide liberal countries and advocated the UK as the champion of democracy.

It is interesting to note that the new style of UK diplomacy realises that the global community is not going to move along the path set by the West. Each country has its own style of governance, levels of democracy and freedoms. An early recognition of this truism would really help Western countries to come up with sensible diplomacy.

Western countries often think that developing countries have no soul, their leaders are a bunch of dictators or lunatics (though some are) and that they have not followed their rules of governance. The general public in these nations is oppressed and has no freedom of expression. The fact is, all countries have a hybrid type of governance, including good and bad elements. Most important are those in between, the moderate type. The West, in particular the US, has tended, however, to view developing countries as either good or bad, with no middle ground.

As a previous coloniser, the UK should have known what their legacy would be in the countries they once controlled. For good or for worse, some of the messes out there were of their making. Therefore, with the UK now outside the EU, the country is out there in the world. That helps explain why London is reaching out broadly, to consolidate their ties with allies and friends. Most of all, they are making new friends,which means new markets.

Cleverly appears to be more pragmatic and is not overtly critical of China, unlike his boss, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who stated that China represents “the largest threat” to the UK. Indeed, there is one more piece of homework the UK must do. They need to study ways to navigate ties with Southeast Asia in such a way that it will not harm the region’s relationship with China. In the coming years and decades, the region could potentially be the UK’s largest market and trading partner, apart from Europe.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn