For over a century, the British Empire exerted control over Asia-Pacific, outright colonising India, Burma, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia while influencing and encroaching upon greater China, Siam and beyond.
It exploited the people and natural resources of the region, fuelled conflict as it waged war with rival European powers seeking to carve out their own colonies in Asia and left an enduring impact on the region, including ethnic and territorial feuds still unfolding today, e.g. the Rohingya crisis in present-day Myanmar.
Rather than make restitution for its decades of war, conquest and exploitation, the United Kingdom today eagerly seeks to reassert itself in the region alongside the United States who has also spent over a century in the region pursuing what US policymakers openly admit is American “primacy.”
The Diplomat, a US-European geopolitical publication focused on Asia-Pacific, described this development in its article, “The British Are Coming (to Asia).”
The article featured a single image, that of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of the UK’s newest warships and its largest. It is one of two “colossal warships” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson recently pledged to send across the globe to aid Washington in its growing confrontation with Beijing.
The author, US Air Force Major John Wright currently serving as Japan Country Director, International Affairs, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, Honolulu, Hawaii, attempts to construct a positive argument for the UK’s involvement thousands of miles from its own shores.
The article admits that the US has few capable allies in the region willing to “comply with mutual defence needs beyond their own territory.” It admits that the US has increasingly looked beyond Asia for partners. The UK then, is about as beyond Asia as any potential partner could be.
The article notes that the UK has already deployed warplanes to Japan in addition to the aforementioned future deployment of British warships to the region. It also suggests that:
…the U.K. could revive the old trick of acting as a “fleet in being;” its ability to steam where and when it pleased while possessing no major territory would throw off regional rivals’ military calculus and force them to commit precious reconnaissance assets to monitoring the United Kingdom.
In other words, a European military would be deployed in and harass “rivals” across Asia alongside US warships already engaged in regional meddling. This, the author concludes, “would be a great benefit to stabilising the security troubles of the region.”
Yet, when considering what actually drives “security troubles of the region,” it is evident that the presence of US forces far beyond US territory, for example, stationed in South Korea and conducting military exercises along North Korea’s borders in a deliberate attempt to provoke Pyongyang is the problem, not the solution. The addition of British warships and aircraft in the region will only further multiply “security troubles” evident in the author’s own comments regarding the need for “regional rivals” to commit to tracking and keeping in check British warships.