British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly
The inauguration of the UK-Philippines Enhanced Partnership in Dec 2021 sought to bolster collaboration across key domains, aiming for strengthened cooperation. Reuters/TOBY MELVILLE

In a strategic move to bolster international ties and foster collaborative efforts on both trade and security fronts, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, James Cleverly, embarks on a significant diplomatic mission to the Philippines.

This milestone visit marks a pivotal moment in the relationship between the two nations, as discussions revolve around the newly established UK-Philippines Enhanced Partnership. The visit, which includes meetings with key figures such as Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, underscores the commitment of both nations to forging enduring partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region.

The UK-Philippines Enhanced Partnership was launched in December 2021 with the aim of fortifying cooperation across several pivotal domains. These areas include climate and environment, trade, maritime security, and foreign policy.

During his visit to the Philippines capital, Manila, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will engage in discussions with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo to chart a path forward for the partnership's growth and efficacy. This deliberation highlights the mutual understanding that a united front is essential in tackling the challenges that confront both nations and the broader international community.

One of the pivotal focal points of this visit is the strengthening of maritime security and cooperation. The Philippines Coast Guard will be a key player in these discussions, addressing issues ranging from maritime security and counterterrorism to environmental conservation. The exchange of expertise and best practises in these areas is a testament to the growing interdependence of nations in the face of global challenges.

Integral to the conversation is the unwavering commitment to uphold the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Recognising the critical importance of maritime trade routes and global stability, both nations reaffirm their dedication to international norms and principles.

With approximately 60 per cent of global shipping traversing the Indo-Pacific region, these trade routes directly impact economies and households worldwide. This shared understanding underscores the necessity for collaborative security measures to ensure the safety and prosperity of all nations involved.

The visit to the Philippines aligns seamlessly with the UK's broader strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. The Integrated Review Refresh, a comprehensive policy document, emphasises the vital role of the Indo-Pacific in the UK's future security and economic growth.

With projections indicating that more than half of global growth will emanate from the Indo-Pacific by 2050, this region's significance cannot be understated. Thriving economies, cutting-edge advancements in science and technology, and the pressing challenges of climate change converge in the Indo-Pacific, making it a focal point for international collaboration.

The UK's engagement with the Philippines in this region is part of a broader strategy to ensure security and prosperity for all likeminded partners. As Foreign Secretary Cleverly reiterates, the UK and the Philippines share common values and interests, forming a robust foundation for collaboration. The partnership between the two nations is intrinsically tied to their dedication to safeguarding freedom, democracy, and the welfare of their citizens.

This diplomatic mission to the Philippines marks Foreign Secretary Cleverly's third journey to Southeast Asia during his tenure. His previous visits to Singapore in 2022 and Indonesia in July 2023 for the ASEAN Foreign Minister's meeting reflect the UK's commitment to active engagement in the region. Moreover, his Indo-Pacific tour to Japan and the Pacific Islands earlier in the year emphasised the UK's resolve to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

The historical context and trajectory of the UK-Philippines Enhanced Partnership provide deeper insight into the significance of this visit. The partnership's inception in 2021 laid the groundwork for an array of collaborative initiatives.

These include dialogues on trade and investment, climate change discussions, and the launch of British Investment Partnerships in the Philippines. The 4th bilateral Economic Dialogue, held on 19 May 2023, further attests to the intensifying economic cooperation between the two nations.

As Foreign Secretary Cleverly's visit unfolds, an upgraded Statement of Intent to augment the UK-Philippines Enhanced Partnership is set to be signed. This symbolic gesture cements the commitment of both nations to strengthening their collaboration in various spheres.

Now that both foreign secretaries, Cleverly and Manalo, are putting pen to paper, the partnership's trajectory is poised for further advancement.