© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Union Jack flag flutters as Big Ben clock tower is seen behind at the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville
LONDON (Reuters) -Britain has been granted “dialogue partner” status by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a step forward in London’s push to build stronger diplomatic ties in Asia following its exit from the European Union.
Britain has been seeking the status as part of its post-Brexit policy shift to focus more on the high-growth economies of Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and away from the EU which it left in 2020.
“We agreed to accord the United Kingdom the status of Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in view of its individual relationship with ASEAN as well as its past cooperation and engagement with ASEAN when it was a member of the European Union,” said a communique issued by ASEAN during its latest meeting.
ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The group has close diplomatic relations with other world powers including the EU, the United States and China, and is seen by many as an important forum for discussion of geopolitical issues.
The United States sees ASEAN as key to its efforts to stand up to China’s growing influence in Asia.
But the group, whose members are bound by a code not to interfere in each other’s affairs, has recently come in for criticism by some of the region’s politicians and rights activists for being little more than a talking shop.
Becoming a dialogue partner gives Britain high-level access to ASEAN summits. The British government hopes it will also spur deeper practical cooperation on issues like climate change and regional stability.
Britain has also applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive (NYSE:) Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement it hopes will open up new markets for goods and services and strengthen existing commercial links.
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