In the first major bilateral visit by a UK PM since Theresa May toured Africa in 2018, Boris Johnson will visit India next month as part of efforts to speed up trade talks between the two nations
In an effort to boost UK opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region and to create a democratic counterweight to China, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning a spring trip to India, his office said on Monday, according to a Reuters report.
This will be the UK prime minister's first major international trip after Britain's exit from the European Union.
Calling the Indo-Pacific "increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world", the government also highlighted a British aircraft deployment to the region ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's previously postponed visit to India in April, the report said.
Johnson had planned an Indian trip in January as part of efforts to speed up trade talks between the two countries but was forced to cancel amid a surge of coronavirus cases at home and the spread of a new strain.
At the time, his office said he had hoped to rearrange the visit before Britain hosted the meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven rich nations in June, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to attend as a visitor.
Johnson's government said it would "tilt" its focus towards the Indo-Pacific region as part of its Integrated Review of government policy for the coming years, saying the area increasingly represented the geopolitical centre of the world.
Last month, Britain made a formal request to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), seeking membership of the 11-country bloc to open new avenues for post-Brexit trade and influence.
It has also applied to become a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"We are pursuing trade deals from Australia to the US and around the world – particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, a huge growth market for the future," foreign minister Dominic Raab wrote in December.
As per reports, relations between the United Kingdom and China have strained over issues such as Hong Kong, coronavirus pandemic and also denying Huawei an active role in Britain's 5G network.
The potential deployment of Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier's is also expected to raise military tensions in the South China Sea.
The report in Reuters also mentioned that Johnson will focus "on the UK's place in the world and the ability to seize the opportunities ahead."
Britain will also be holding two influential roles this year: hosting the first post-pandemic G7 summit in June, and the COP26 climate conference in November.
The UK PM has invited three Indo-Pacific nations to attend the G7 summit in Cornwall in June as guests — Australia, India and South Korea — a move that has caused raised eyebrows among some of the other attendees.
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