It would be great if Bri­tain could step out of the past

China Daily - - COMMENT -

Given its com­ing divorce from the Euro­pean Union and its de­sire to show it is its own mas­ter, Bri­tain seems to feel the need to demon­strate that its sta­tus is not de­pen­dent on it be­ing part of the Euro­pean col­lec­tive.

But its in­tended means of dis­play­ing its glo­ri­ous in­de­pen­dence in South­east Asia will only mark it out as a trou­ble­maker.

Bri­tish Sec­re­tary of State for De­fence Gavin Wil­liamson in an in­ter­view with The Sun­day Tele­graph last week, said Bri­tain would open two new mil­i­tary bases in “a cou­ple of years”, one in the Caribbean and the other in South­east Asia with Sin­ga­pore and Brunei as pos­si­ble sites. This would un­nec­es­sar­ily break the cur­rent strate­gic equi­lib­rium in the Asia-Pa­cific and fuel new ten­sions at the geopo­lit­i­cal level.

To be char­i­ta­ble, since Bri­tain is hop­ing for a trade deal with the United States to keep its econ­omy afloat af­ter it sev­ers its ad­van­ta­geous ties with its Euro­pean part­ners, the move is per­haps one of des­per­a­tion rather than mal­ice.

In re­cent years, Wash­ing­ton has used the re­gional mar­itime dis­putes as an ex­cuse to med­dle in re­gional af­fairs and a means to cre­ate dis­cord, and it has been pres­sur­ing its al­lies to do the same. Lon­don will be keen to show it’s will­ing to do so while hold­ing out its cap for pen­nies.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s an­nounce­ment that Wash­ing­ton would stop play­ing the self-as­sumed role as a “world po­lice­man” had raised hopes that the US would stop in­ter­fer­ing in oth­ers’ af­fairs. So Bri­tain’s plan to beef up its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion has nat­u­rally led peo­ple to think that Lon­don, un­sat­is­fied with its pre­vi­ous role as Wash­ing­ton’s deputy sher­iff, may seek to pol­ish its pres­tige by claim­ing the tin star that the US seems to be dis­card­ing.

While that is beyond its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Lon­don as Wash­ing­ton’s loyal fol­lower has al­ways been will­ing to do Wash­ing­ton’s bid­ding, so there is no rea­son to think the new base will not do the same.

To project its power through naval mus­cle-flex­ing is a resid­ual of Bri­tain’s days of em­pire when it sent gun­boats to con­vince oth­ers that homage was in order. Those days are past.

It is no longer a time when out­side forces can im­pose their will on the re­gion. With the mu­tual ef­forts of China and the mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions, the mar­itime dis­putes have not hin­dered ef­forts to en­hance co­op­er­a­tion in the re­gion.

More im­por­tant, China and ASEAN mem­bers are quick­en­ing their steps in ne­go­ti­at­ing the text for a code of con­duct in the South China Sea. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, Lon­don’s in­ten­tion to mil­i­ta­rize the waters is an er­ror of judg­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Hong Kong

© PressReader. All rights reserved.