Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore (Picture: MOD).

Defence secretary commits to Indo-Pacific tilt in Singapore speech

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the 20th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore (Picture: MOD).

The Defence Secretary reaffirmed the country's commitment to a strategic shift towards the Indo-Pacific region, in a speech delivered at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore.

Ben Wallace emphasised the importance of co-operation, adherence to international rules, and the promotion of common standards in maintaining balance and stability.

To achieve these objectives Mr Wallace said the Armed Forces have an important supporting role to play.  

Watch: Why is the UK interested in the Indo-Pacific region?

"Our security is your security. And that's why the UK is becoming more proactive and more persistently engaged in the Indo-Pacific," he added.

Speaking about how balance and stability can be created in the Indo-Pacific, the Defence Secretary said: "We can do this in three ways... this might surprise you, coming from a Defence Secretary, but those ways are not primarily military."

According to Mr Wallace, the three ways in which a stable Indo-Pacific region can be achieved are: upholding international rules and promoting common standards, backing free trade, as well as the promotion of British principles and values.

Speaking on the last point, Mr Wallace said: "You don't need to have mastered the rules of cricket to know that fair play is ingrained in the British psyche."

He emphasised the importance of the Armed Forces for both hard and soft power projection in the region, the latter defined as a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of cultural influence.

A recent Commons Defence Committee report said hard power assets, such as Royal Navy ships, could be incorporated to include soft power objectives. 

Mr Wallace highlighted the presence of two Royal Navy ships, HMS Spey and Tamar, permanently deployed in the region.

Spey and Tamar are instrumental in times of crisis, having delivered humanitarian aid to tsunami-hit Tonga.

The Royal Navy ships also help enforce the sanctions regime against North Korea.

To deepen the UK's understanding and influence in more than 20 countries, Mr Wallace said: "We have expanded our network of defence attachés and regional defence staff – including the recently restored Defence Section in Manila, Philippines."

Watch: What is the role of a defence attaché?

Mr Wallace also emphasised the UK's growing Defence presence in the region by highlighting the British troops in Brunei and the recent signing of a deal on closer defence and security ties with Japan.

"As a result of all this we've been able to increase our tempo, conducting over 60 defence activities in the last two years alone," Mr Wallace said.

The UK is a member of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), a series of defence arrangements between Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

The FPDA celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 and the Defence Secretary is convinced that the partnership will have an even more important role to play in the years ahead.

As a commitment to the importance of the Indo-Pacific, Mr Wallace stated that he applied formally applied in March this year for the UK to join ADMM-Plus.

The ADMM-Plus is a group of eight countries, known as 'Dialogue Partners' (Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States) working closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN is a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia.

According to the government, with 60% of global trade passing through shipping routes in the Indo-Pacific, security there has a direct impact in households in the UK.

In 2022, the UK's trading relationships with the region were worth more than £250bn.

By 2030, the Indo-Pacific is expected to account for more than 40% of global GDP.

One of the UK's biggest commitments to the region is highlighted in the presence of the Carrier Strike Group which will be returning to the Indo-Pacific in 2025.

"It's a great symbol of our partnership approach. Showing that, in a more turbulent world the UK will not retreat to its own shores but continue sailing far over the horizon," Mr Wallace said.

"Using our unique convening power to bring like-minded partners together, wherever they are in this world," he added.

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