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Subcontracting, facilitating and qualities of regional power: the UK’s partial pivot to Asia

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This article explores the UK’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia, a decade after its tentative beginnings. This pivot is understood to be Britain’s planned redirection of attention and resources to Asia which emerged gradually from around 2007/2008, before intensifying from 2010. It is argued that the pivot has been evident across distinctive phases and political, economic and security dimensions, while lacking organisation, clarity and purpose, leaving it partial and incomplete. Examined are the motivations for the pivot and the forms it has taken, its accomplishments and ultimately what the pivot reveals about the role and influence the UK claims in Asia today. It is shown that in its key trade and investment aims, the pivot has achieved mixed results, doing little to enhance the UK’s position as a tertiary-level partner of Asia. However, Britain’s agency and importance is best explained not by its quantities, but its qualities, of power, occupying the regional roles of “subcontractor” and “facilitator”. Finally, the article looks to Britain’s future in Asia. Exiting the EU would likely see the UK retain its status of subcontractor, while its ability to act as facilitator would almost certainly diminish. The article concludes by arguing that, despite the rhetoric of the pivot, Britain’s presence in Asia will never be defined by its quantities of material power, and that it should work to sustain the qualities of power on which its regional presence is built.




Turner, O. (2019). Subcontracting, facilitating and qualities of regional power: the UK’s partial pivot to Asia. Asia Europe Journal, 17(2), 211–226.

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