British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the London military head-quarters aims to establish a new naval base somewhere in Asia in the coming years.
Singapore or Brunei, two of Britain’s old colonies in Southeast Asia, could be potential sites for the broached new base. Brunei already hosts a small British military base, where a battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles is stationed and paid for by the country’s ruling Sultan.
It seems unlikely that Britain would opt for an Asian country that is not part of its Commonwealth, a political association mostly composed of the UK’s former territories.
In April 2018, Britain opened a new naval base in Bahrain, its first new base east of Suez since 1971. Also a new ‘training’ base in Oman is set to open in 2019.
With 16 military bases across the world, Britain is second only to the USA in the global scale of foreign deployment of their military forces.
Regardless of where the prospective base is located, or how significant it will be militarily, it is yet another indication that Britain aims to play a much bigger role in Asian affairs than it has for decades.
Britain, virtually absent from the Asia-Pacific since de-colonization more than half a century ago, appears to feel there is a place to reposition itself in the region.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, said on January 5 that she welcomed a new British military base in the region.
It is clearly a muscle-flexing gesture targeting China and shows closer engagement of external powers in the South China Sea disputes.
While for decades previous governments have had nothing similar to America’s policies, Britain has nonetheless maintained significant military interests in the Asia-Pacific.
Moreover, one likely location for Britain’s new Asia military base is Brunei, an oil-rich state of less than a million people dominated and dictated by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah for more than 50 years.
China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam all count Britain as an important trading partner, though by no means their most important.
Senior British ministers have spent a considerable part of the last two years touring Asia to drum up support for new bilateral economic agreements once Britain is removed from the EU’s pacts.
It would thus be of interest for these exporters to be on friendly terms with Britain post-Brexit, lest they suffer future trade slumps. But trade, per se, is not enough: Vietnam, for example, trades more with Germany than with the UK.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2019.