British foreign policy is changing. That is the message that Foreign Secretary William Hague has been trying to get across since taking office a year and a half ago.
And how so, one might ask? Well, first of all, British foreign policy, never too keen on European integration, has been proven correct in the past couple of years by the ongoing Euro-zone crisis. That the British do not have to participate in rescuing their more profligate southern neighbours gives the current administration the entitlement and satisfaction of saying ¨I told you so.¨
Other than protecting the British citizens´ interests while keeping their communitarian responsibilities to a minimum, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has completely changed the direction of foreign policy in that it has identified and decided to engage the emerging ¨centres of decision-making¨ in the world. In the words of Secretary Hague himself, ¨The world is not going into concentric blocs of power. It is actually going into a diffusion of power with more centres of decision-making than ever in human civilisation. That requires you to place yourself in far more hubs of power than ever before.¨
And placing itself in hubs the FCO has done. Despite seeing its budget reduced by 10% this year, it increased its staff in 22 countries. Foremost among them were China (50 new employees this year) and India (30 new employees). FCO ministers visited 97 countries in the past 18 months, while Secretary Hague himself visited over 40 countries, including Ethiopia, Tunisia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia. Secretary Hague has been keeping busy on the phone as well. In his own words, ¨If you add up who I (N.B.- Secretary Hague) make the most phone calls to, the foreign minister of Turkey is up there with Hilary Clinton.¨ Indeed, promoting diplomatic and commercial relations with fast-growing Turkey is a fixation of British foreign policy these days. India, Indonesia, China, Brazil and the rest of Latin America are also high up there on the list of foreign policy priorities.
Regarding the latter, it is worth mentioning that the number of British ministerial visits to Latin America so far this year has more than tripled compared to last year. And of the 29 such visits, two of them- to Brazil and Mexico- were led by none other than Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg himself. The UK also opened a new embassy in El Salvador and a consulate in Recife, Brazil. British trade with Latin America, which until recently was symbolic with the exception of Brazil, has seen a double-digit increase. Mexico and Brazil remain the stalwarts of British interests in the region, but Colombia, Peru and Argentina follow closely.
The fact that all these countries have large economies and are rich in resources is no coincidence. After all, economic interests have always shaped British foreign policy. And having access to a market of half a billion Latin Americans and trading with economies that add up to over US$ 5 trillion, which is more than China’s economy, serves the British well.
Having once described the euro as a ¨burning building with no exits¨, Secretary Hague is watching warily what is happening closer to home, but at the same time he is increasing the FCO´s presence in far away places. After all, his stated goal is to ¨build whole new alliances with the emerging powers¨ and so far he has been staying true to that goal.The Worldfolio