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Opinion: Britain in partnership with a secure and prosperous Asia

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has contributed an article on the "two-plus-two" talks between Japanese and British foreign and defence ministers that are scheduled to be held in Tokyo on Jan. 8. In the article, Hammond pointed out that the two-plus-two talks are well timed to capitalize on the enactment of Japan's security-related legislation. He thus suggested that the two countries will agree to expand bilateral defence cooperation.

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The world enters 2016 with some cause for trepidation. Falling demand from a slowing Chinese economy, uncertainty about the impact of U.S. monetary policy on Asian emerging markets, a global terror threat from Islamist extremists and continuing security tensions in the South and East China Seas all provide an uncertain backdrop to the start of this new year. But we can be certain about two things: Asia Pacific remains a leading engine of global growth; and we are living in an Asian century.

That's why last year Prime Minister David Cameron made Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia his first non-European destinations after his election victory. It's why I visited every Indo-Pacific member of the G20 last year. And it's why I'm here in Tokyo with my colleague the UK Defence Minister at the start of this year for important foreign policy and security talks with Foreign Minister Kishida. Put simply: Asia's security matters to the UK.

Britain's new national security strategy, published in November, has a very clear vision. Everything we do around the world is driven by our determination to protect our people and our values, and ensure that our country prospers. Our focus is to build a secure and prosperous United Kingdom. But we know we cannot achieve that without a secure and prosperous Asia Pacific.

Britain knows Asia in all its diversity. Through deep networks of political, business and people-to-people connections we are investing in bilateral relationships new and old. My visit to Beijing this week is another step in the 21st Century Partnership that we announced with China during President Xi's state visit. We are expanding our economic ties into new areas of innovation, and looking to expand from bilateral to global cooperation. That means aiming to work with China to address the defining political challenges of our day, including Daesh and the urgent humanitarian situation in Syria. But it also means facing up squarely to differences between us, whether on cyber security, on freedom of expression, or on regional security.

In Manila I renewed ties with another island nation which has long been an advocate of democratic values in South-East Asia, and which, under President Aquino, has championed the fight against corruption. And here in Tokyo, the annual UK-Japan Foreign and Defence Ministers' meeting will allow us to define the next steps in our growing defence partnership with Japan, as Britain's closest security partner in Asia and a common ally with the US, the fundamental security guarantor in the Western Pacific. This summit is well timed to capitalise on Japan's recent, welcome, security reforms. But I'll also spend time with leading Japanese businesses, who have been at the forefront of manufacturing investment and innovation in the UK, because ours is a deep, multi-faceted and broad-based friendship, rooted in our shared values and reinforced by decades of collaboration.

Through these partnerships we want to help shape a region of the world that is increasingly critical to our own future. So we will continue to argue for the essential ingredients of a dynamic and prosperous Asia-Pacific: Respect for individual human rights and freedoms; strong, transparent and accountable institutions; free and open trading systems. We will work with our Asian partners in support of these, capitalising on the privileged relationships we enjoy as a member of the G7 and G20, of the UN Security Council, and of the Commonwealth, whose reach extends across the region. We will translate that influence into real-world outcomes, aiming this year to secure agreement on an ambitious EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement, and using the international Anti-Corruption Summit in London in May to change the terms of debate in Asian capitals also.

Influence, though, is not a one-way street. We will continue to listen with an open ear to those who argue for the international system to adapt to reflect the emerging role of Asian nations on the world stage. That is why we have consistently supported reform of the UN Security Council to reflect Japan's importance, and of the IMF to reflect the reality of China's economic power. It is why we welcome the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and of the Trans-Pacific Partnership of which Japan is a leading member.

But we are also clear that the fundamentals of the rules-based international system cannot be up for renegotiation. Shared rules and agreements on behaviour are at the heart of this system, and have served Asia just as well as they have served Europe. Respect for international law, and for the institutions which underpin it, are critical to peace, stability and prosperity for us and for future generations. Without this, simmering tensions, such as those in the South and East China Seas, have the potential to run out of control, and to undermine the very peace and stability which are critical to Asia's prosperity.

Such challenges are a reminder that Asia's rise is not without challenge. But it is also the global community's greatest opportunity. Britain is committed to using every element of our international influence, to take those opportunities and to work in partnership with the region for a secure and prosperous Asia.

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