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UK steps up diplomacy in PH, Southeast Asia

MANILA, Philippines – The United Kingdom has beefed up its embassy staff in Manila with an additional six members amid efforts to step up its engagement in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia-Pacific.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Tuesday in a statement that the six would be among 50 new posts that the UK has planned to add across its network of missions in Asia within the next three years.

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By 2015, the UK will also have deployed 60 extra staff members to China and 30 to India.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who visited Singapore last week, said these extra posts and diplomats “were the physical proof of our desire for broad and deep partnerships with Asian countries for the 21st century.”

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Hague reiterated the UK’s heightened focus on Asia and encouraged the rest of Europe to be more engaged in the region through championing free trade agreements, sharing expertise in specialist areas and being active on foreign policy issues in Asia.

“We believe that it is time for the EU [European Union] to be more vigorously and coherently engaged with countries of the Asia-Pacific within the limits of its competencies,” he said.

The minister added that such heightened engagement would involve being active on foreign policy issues in Asia, like offering EU expertise to support regional integration in Southeast Asia.

“Our government will invest the time and effort to develop the political relationships and deep understanding to support this vision over the long term,” Hague said. “Those countries in the region that choose to look to Britain will find a willing, active and serious partner for the 21st century.”

Trevor Lewis, chargé d’ affaires at the British Embassy in Manila, said Hague meant “a clear statement of the UK’s renewed engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and of the importance of working closely with key regional partners including the Philippines.”

Also last week, foreign ministers of the EU and of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) launched two cooperation programs that cost 20 million euros ($26.5 million) to support Asean integration.

During the latest of the twice-yearly Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting held in Brunei, the ministers also finalized and adopted a new action plan aimed at reaching out to “all possible areas of cooperation” between the two regional groupings.

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