British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reiterated the UK's commitment to a free trade agreement (FTA) with India as part of the country's wider focus on enhancing ties with the strategic Indo-Pacific region and standing up to competitors with “robust pragmatism”.
Delivering his first major foreign policy speech since taking charge at 10 Downing Street last month at the Lord Mayor of London's Banquet on Monday evening, the British Indian leader reflected upon his heritage and committed to promoting British values of “freedom and openness” around the world.
He also pledged to “do things differently” far removed from the so-called “golden era” with China, which he said poses a “systemic challenge” to British values and interests.
“Before I came into politics, I invested in businesses around the world.
"And the opportunity in the Indo-Pacific is compelling,” Sunak said.
“By 2050, the Indo-Pacific will deliver over half of global growth compared with just a quarter from Europe and North America combined.
"That's why we're joining the Trans-Pacific trade deal, the CPTPP, delivering a new FTA with India and pursuing one with Indonesia,” he said.
India and Britain launched negotiations for the free-trade agreement (FTA) in January with an aim to conclude talks by Diwali but the deadline was missed due to a lack of consensus on issues.
The focus of the FTA negotiations is on reducing the barriers to trade, cutting tariffs, and supporting easier imports and exports into each other's markets.
“Like many others, my grandparents came to the UK, via East Africa and the Indian subcontinent and made their lives here. In recent years, we've welcomed thousands of people from Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
"We're a country that stands up for our values, that defends democracy by actions not just words,” Sunak noted.
On China, the prime minister said he wants to “evolve” the UK's approach as he distanced his government from a slogan used by the previous Conservative Party led government to describe UK-China bilateral relations just over seven years ago.
“Let's be clear, the so-called ‘golden era' is over, along with the naïve idea that trade would lead to social and political reform.
"But nor should we rely on simplistic Cold War rhetoric.
"We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism,” Sunak cautioned.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas.