Britain’s top diplomat met Wednesday with his Cambodian counterpart as he pushed for closer economic relations to Southeast Asia, part of the UK’s new emphasis on the region.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met with Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn in Phnom Penh in what his office said was the first visit of thee country’s foreign secretary to Cambodia since the British Embassy was reopened 30 years ago.
Cambodia is set to take over the rotating annual chairmanship next year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and Raab’s office said he would make the case for Britain to attain “dialogue partnership” with the 10-nation bloc, the closest relationship for non-member countries.
“Here to boost trade, support Cambodia’s energy transition, expand UK ASEAN cooperation — and as a force for good in the Indo-Pacific,” Raab tweeted ahead of his meetings.
Britain is currently pursuing a “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region in response to China’s growing influence on the world stage that was recommended by a recent British government review of defense and foreign policy.
Beyond trade, Britain earlier this year dispatched a strike group led by the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth on a 28-week deployment to Asia.
As Raab met with officials, human rights observers noted that Cambodia has recently arrested and imprisoned environmental activists and urged the foreign secretary to call for their release, as well as some 70 other political prisoners.
“Foreign Secretary Raab’s visit comes in the midst of a human rights crisis in Cambodia, and both his talking points and public pronouncements need to reflect that,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director.
“The UK should also ensure any future trade preferences granted to Cambodia be firmly based on improvements in civil and political rights,” he said.
Raab started his three-country trip in Vietnam, and was to head to Singapore after his visit to Cambodia.
It was his fifth visit to Southeast Asia as foreign secretary.