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New Challenges of Foreign Policy: Perspectives from the UK

Monday, June 9, 2008

Whilst on a Ministerial visit to Malaysia Meg gave the following speech to the Chevening Alumni Malaysia.


It is a great pleasure to speak at an event organised with the Chevening Alumni Malaysia. Chevening Alumni represent a large part of the future of Malaysia, as future leaders of your country, leaders in business, education and many more spheres of life.


My visit has been shorter than I would like, but hugely enlightening. From my meetings today I have heard how the UK has been working with Malaysia on important issues facing all of us. In those meetings I have been keen to stress that Malaysia is important to the UK. We have a strong relationship; I believe it can be stronger still. Both our countries seek to overcome today’s challenges and make the most of the opportunities of a globalising world.


I want to emphasis the people-to-people links that form the fabric of our countries relationship. You are all the living proof of the benefits of these links. Last week in London I had a very interesting discussion with representatives of the Malaysian community living in the UK, including leaders of organisations supporting the 12,000 Malaysian students currently in Britain. I hope to further promote these important relationships in my home city of Sheffield, where my constituency is, later in the summer. I hope to meet some of the 600 students from the Tunku Abdul Rahman College who are currently studying at Sheffield Hallam University.


New challenges

The UK Foreign Office has been reflecting carefully on how we can best develop policies for the rapidly changing global environment. Foreign policy cannot stay the same if it is to be effective.  It has to be flexible to deal with the rise and fall of global and regional players, the changing nature of the global economy and the emergence of new economic powers.  


The world has changed from when foreign policy was only concerned with nation states, which ones to look out for, or which alliance to be part of.  This still can be important of course when we look examine threats from failing or fragile states.  In the past, unless you were a neighbour to a state like this, it was unlikely that these would affect you.  With global business, worldwide networks and mass communication this is no longer the case


Some themes remain constant.  The Foreign Office still needs to protect British nationals abroad, promote UK trade and investment opportunities, and co-operate in the defence arena. We still need to deal with the range of issues that migration brings us.


In each of these areas Malaysia matters to the UK:

  • there are some 250,000 British visitors to Malaysia each year. In the last year more Britons have taken up the Malaysia My Second Home scheme than from any other nation,
  • on current figures, the South East Asia region is a bigger trading partner for the UK than either China or India,
  • last year has seen the largest defence exercise ever under the Five Power Defence Arrangement. The exercise was held in Malaysia, and the UK took the lead role in the planning and execution, and
  • about 100,000 Malaysians visit the UK each year.  

But there are new priorities for UK foreign policy. Our focus needs to reflect the world as it is and how we would like it to be. Therefore we have focused our work on four policy priorities:

  • countering terrorism and proliferation,
  • reducing and preventing conflict,
  • promoting a low carbon, high growth global economy, and,
  • developing effective international institutions. 

Through the promotion and development of human rights, good governance and democracy, we can help prevent and resolve conflict.   We believe the international community can react more quickly and effectively to emerging conflicts and better support post-conflict peacekeeping and stabilising.  This is best achieved in the context of strong international institutions.


On counter terrorism our aim is to prevent people becoming or supporting terrorists or violent extremists in the UK and around the world.  We’re doing this by working at home and abroad to:

  • tackle social disadvantage, inequality and discrimination,
  • deter people who assist or encourage terrorism, and
  • challenge ideologies used by extremists and help those who wish to dispute these ideas. 

In this area a global view is needed.  Our Prime Minister has called for an international approach to defeating terrorism, by strengthening the role of international institutions in ensuring a unified global response to terrorism - through asset freezes, travel bans, proscriptions, raising international legal standards, and unflagging resistance to extremist ideologies. 


Climate change

Climate change is one of the toughest challenges facing the world today.  It needs to be tackled urgently and at an international level, nothing less will do. We are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Without action these effects will only become more frequent and severe.  Most would agree that unchecked climate change threatens global stability, prosperity and security. 


The UK Foreign Secretary recently said that current global crises such as spiralling energy and food prices have their origin in carbon dependence.  His solution is for the world to move to a low carbon economy with a diverse mix of energy sources and suppliers.


The UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change has suggested unmitigated climate change could have a significant impact on human migration.  People could potentially be displaced not only by the direct effects of climate change, such as coastal flooding, desertification and agricultural disruption, but also by conflict and instability exacerbated by the scarcity of resources particularly food and water. We are already seeing people movement due to the effects of climate change in the Pacific region.


The UK is committed to helping develop a global political consensus on how we can proceed. The Bali conference was a step in the right direction. We came away with an agreement on a roadmap for achieving a global climate deal by the end of 2009.  But we need to take this much further if we are to realise the aim of building a sustainable and equitable low carbon high growth global economy.


The UK is the first country in the world to set a long term legal framework for reducing emissions through our Climate Change Bill.  I hope that others will want to make similar commitments and that this will help unlock progress towards a post-2012 agreement.


Through the British High Commission, we have been working closely with the Malaysian government on tackling climate change. The High Commission and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment worked together on the regional conference on climate change in Kuala Lumpur last October. As well as the follow up public seminar in March, which examined the implications of the Bali conference for Malaysia. We very much hope to continue this excellent working relationship.


International institutions

It is through strong international institutions such as the UN and ASEAN that we can more effectively tackle many global or regional problems.   The humanitarian crisis in Burma following the cyclone is a good example of this.


The leadership shown by ASEAN to help achieve access and deliver aid was welcome.  However, as the ASEAN Secretary General acknowledged at the pledging conference on 25 May, things are unlikely to go smoothly. The Burmese people need ASEAN and the UN’s continued engagement at political levels, and crucially on the ground, to overcome the obstacles. The UN-ASEAN mechanism must succeed in co-ordinating and delivering the relief effort. The international community needs to hold the Burmese authorities to their promise of increased access for international aid workers, and move as quickly as possible to facilitate the doubling or tripling of aid that is needed. Nothing other than a step change in their approach to this humanitarian crisis can satisfy the international community.


Although the outcome of the Rangoon pledging conference was encouraging, it was the start, not the end of this process.  What is needed now is concrete action, and the implementation of commitments made.  More than four weeks after the cyclone, 60% of people affected have still received no aid at all.  The people of Burma can not afford further delay.


I conclude by bringing matters back to a local level [or balik kampung as I believe it is said here]. I am most grateful to the Chevening alumni of Malaysia for arranging this forum and giving me the chance to talk with some of Malaysia’s future leaders.  I know the alumni have been extremely active with their public forum series on topics such as climate change, corporate social responsibility and transparency and accountability.  


I am particularly pleased to hear that present in the audience are graduates of Sheffield Hallam university. Also graduates of York and Nottingham universities, in both of which I studied. I look forward to meeting some of you over a cup of tea.


Thank you for listening. I’m happy to take some questions.

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