Asian trade deals will bring new security challenges to the UK

Courtney Goldsmith
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The UK will have to start taking sides, the Policy Exchange report says (Source: Getty)

Asian markets are becoming increasingly important to Britain's long-term prosperity outside the EU, but a new report today will suggest that Britain will not be able to "dip into" trade without also becoming entangled in the region's security issues.

Prime Minister Theresa May was in Japan last week working to pave the way for a future trade deal after Brexit. The visit coincided with escalating tensions between the US and North Korea.

After launching a missile over Japan last week, North Korea yesterday announced it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb after an earthquake was identified in the region.

Think tank Policy Exchange's report, which will be published today, argues that while Asia is a place of growing importance to the UK's long-term prosperity, establishing more trade deals in the region will likely mean more involvement in urgent security problems there.

John Bew and David Martin Jones, authors of the report, said:

That the Prime Minister's visit coincided with the firing of a North Korean missile over mainland Japan underscores the fact that Britain cannot dip into the region in pursuit of trade deals without getting more involved in Asia's most pressing security problems.

The report goes on to say the first principle of the UK's involvement in Asia should be to keep to the status quo: bolstering existing alliances and preserving the existing international order.

"It must be understood that this is likely to cause tension when it comes to relations with China," it warns.

Over the longer term, the think tank's report advised the UK to develop a bespoke strategy that goes beyond riding on the tails of the US but does not undercut the fundamental interests of its most powerful allies.

"Engaging more in Asia opens the doors to new opportunities. But it also implies making difficult choices and choosing sides. In future years, as its new aircraft carriers enter Asian waters, the UK must tread lightly, act prudently, and spend its limited capital wisely," Bew and Jones said.

"The global balance of power is tilting from West to East. Making sense of that shift is the greatest strategic challenge of the next quarter century."

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