BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Britain has been granted “dialogue partner” status by ASEAN, a step forward in London’s push to build stronger diplomatic ties in Asia following its exit from the European Union.

The UK has been seeking the status as part of its post-Brexit policy shift to focus more on the high-growth economies of Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and away from the EU which it left in 2020.

“We agreed to accord the United Kingdom the status of Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in view of its individual relationship with ASEAN as well as its past cooperation and engagement with ASEAN when it was a member of the European Union,” said a joint communique issued by ASEAN foreign ministers on Wednesday.

Becoming a dialogue partner gives Britain high-level access to ASEAN summits, seen as an important forum for discussion of geopolitical issues.

ASEAN has 11 dialogue partners in total, including China, the United States and Russia.

The British government hopes its new status will spur deeper practical cooperation on issues like climate change and regional stability.

The UK has also applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement it hopes will open up new markets for goods and services and strengthen existing commercial links.

Although ASEAN has maintained a moratorium on admitting new dialogue partners for over 20 years, leaders agreed last April to accept the UK’s application.

Wednesday’s communique said the bloc would undertake a comprehensive review of the moratorium, with the objective to “advance ASEAN’s relations with external parties based on the principles of strengthening ASEAN Centrality”.

Nearly a dozen countries have expressed interest in becoming an ASEAN dialogue partner.

— With additional reporting from The Scoop