BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The UK is on track to become ASEAN’s eleventh dialogue partner, after the group’s chair, Brunei, tasked the region’s foreign ministers with expediting the process so it could be made official later this year.

After meeting with Brunei’s foreign minister YB Dato Hj Erywan PDPJ Hj Md Yusof in London on Wednesday, the UK’s top diplomat thanked ASEAN leaders for accepting the country’s application.

“I look forward to strengthening our commitment to the ASEAN region even further in the coming years,” foreign secretary Dominic Raab said after the meeting.

A statement from the Foreign Office added that the ministers also discussed building deeper UK-ASEAN trade links and security cooperation, while working together to address challenges such as climate change and COVID-19 recovery.

“We also discussed the ongoing situation in Myanmar. I underlined the UK’s steadfast opposition to the military coup and the important role ASEAN can play based on the principles of its Charter,” Raab said.

Other topics covered during the talks included setting more ambitious climate targets for both the G7 and ASEAN ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow later this year.

As president of G7, the UK government invited Brunei to attend the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in London this week, signaling a desire for closer alignment with the Indo-Pacific after leaving the EU.

It was the first time a representative of the ASEAN chair has been invited to attend the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting.

Although ASEAN has held a long-time moratorium on admitting new dialogue partners, at the ASEAN leaders meeting on Myanmar last month member states agreed to accept the UK’s application to become a dialogue partner.

They tasked their foreign ministers with facilitating the process so that it would become official by the 54th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in August.

For decades, the UK’s engagement with ASEAN had primarily been through the ASEAN-EU dialogue partnership, but since the completion of Brexit last year the UK has sought closer ties with the Indo-Pacific.

Brunei, which is also a member of the Commonwealth, has a historically close relationship with the UK and has been an early supporter of its bid for dialogue partner status.

In April Raab visited Brunei to hold talks with His Majesty the Sultan and took part in the ASEAN-UK Troika meeting, where the UK pledged over £6 million to COVID relief and strengthening ASEAN health systems.

ASEAN currently has 10 dialogue partners – Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.