UK has ‘strong relationships’ with ASEAN in trade, politics, defence: High Commissioner to Singapore
As strong financial centres, Singapore and the United Kingdom can support other countries' decarbonisation efforts, says British High Commissioner to Singapore Kara Owen.
SINGAPORE: Britain intends to play a greater role in Southeast Asia moving forward, especially in helping the region with its green energy transition, according to a senior government official.
British High Commissioner to Singapore Kara Owen also noted on Tuesday (Dec 13) that the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been underpinned by trade and economic elements such as partnerships in developing capital markets and financial services.
“Southeast Asia is a great example of what the UK is seeking to do in this part of the world. We've got very strong relationships with individual countries within Southeast Asia, and also with ASEAN as an institution,” said Ms Owen.
“We've also got a really strong political relationship with ASEAN and defence collaboration.”
Ms Owen was speaking to CNA’s Asia First in an exclusive interview, following British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s first major speech on the future of the country’s foreign policy.
In his speech, Mr Cleverly noted that post-Brexit Britain needed to cooperate with non-traditional partners such as countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. He said Britain would demonstrate its long-term commitment to the Indo-Pacific such as by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
He also talked about efforts to secure a free trade agreement with India, the new president of the G20, and said the UK would help new ASEAN chair Indonesia with its green transition.
Ms Owen said both Singapore and the UK had made “really strong commitments” toward decarbonising their economies.
“I think we can both have, including through our financial centres, a really catalytic effect on supporting other countries as they decarbonise too,” she said.
A green economy cooperation framework is currently being negotiated between the two countries, said Ms Owen, and is likely to focus on three areas of cooperation.
Identifying energy transition as the first focus, Ms Owen said: “We've both been very clear that hydrogen is going to form part of our future energy mix. So what can we do together to innovate, to bring in the technology, and to be able to implement that in a way that helps us?”
Noting that ASEAN was “very keen” on creating its own energy grid, Ms Owen said the UK could share its expertise as it has a “long experience in Europe of doing that”.
The second focus area is transport, with Ms Owen identifying both the UK and Singapore as hubs for maritime and aviation, and hence able to work together to figure out how to decarbonise those sectors.
Green finance is the third focus, as both Singapore and the UK are known for developing innovative products in this field, said Ms Owen.
“We are also really keen (to see how) we can harness the potential of carbon markets to underpin the transition, not only in our own countries, but also further afield.”
Ms Owen called the developments at the recent G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia “really significant”, with a wide range of countries supporting the green energy transition with financial and technical assistance as well as technology.
The UK, working alongside the European Union, is also supporting Vietnam in its decarbonisation efforts, with Ms Owen saying “the governments of both countries have made really ambitious commitments”.
Collaboration on sustainability issues also stretches to the education front, said Ms Owen, with 16 top UK universities and Singapore’s six universities working closely at the student and faculty level.
ON TRADE AND CHINA
She said the UK has strong reasons for engaging in this region, such as a growing trade relationship with Asia-Pacific countries now worth 100 billion pounds.
“If you look at what we've done with Singapore, for example, we have one of the strongest, most exciting digital economy agreements that has ever been signed,” she said.
The UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, to boost digital trade and data flows between both countries, entered into force in June this year.
Ms Owen added that the UK had just signed a “really strong” digital partnership with Japan, and has defence relationships with many countries in this region.
“I think it's really important and evident that we're here for itself. We've got tons to do in partnership with these countries,” she said.
Ms Owen also highlighted the UK’s interest in joining the CPTPP free trade pact.
“The CPTPP is a fantastic agreement. It’s right at the cutting edge of what trade agreements want to be like, so it's really obvious why the UK is interested in being part of it,” she said.
Final negotiations on the UK’s accession to the CPTPP are ongoing in London, and the country will bring “a huge amount” by raising the value of the bloc from nine trillion pounds to 11 trillion pounds when it joins, said Ms Owen.
“The negotiations are ongoing. They're really intense. They're making good progress. And I'm really looking forward to us being able to sign up sometime soon.”
Ms Owen also said the UK remains “really keen to have a constructive relationship with China”.
“There are many issues like global economic stability and climate change, where we need to be able to collaborate really closely with China, but we will never do so while compromising our own national interests or our own values,” she said.