Call for articles, special issue of the Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique, “The United Kingdom and Asia in the 21st century: searching for a new soft power?” (co-edited by Mélanie Torrent and Lauriane Simony)
The Integrated Review, published in March 2021 by the British government, sought to clarify the expression “Global Britain”, which had been used successively by Prime ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson since 2016 to refer to the United Kingdom’s new ambitions and directions in the fields of defence, security and foreign policy in the post-Brexit era. The review, by insisting on the geostrategic importance of Asia on the international stage, was laying the ground for an “Indo-Pacific tilt”, which includes the development of economic partnerships with several East Asian countries, a stronger British military presence in the area, as well as new commitments in terms of security and environmental policy. The British government’s desire to increase economic and military cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries is reflected in the United Kingdom’s membership of multilateral forums, alongside various Asian countries. The UK is now part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), which include Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, and in August 2021, it became a dialogue partner of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Several bilateral free trade agreements have also been signed – among which CEPA, concluded in 2020 with Japan – and the United Kingdom has expressed interest in extending these trade deals through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which it officially applied in 2021. British foreign policy also relies on an important diplomatic network: the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has 52 posts in East Asia, several of which have been opened since 2018.
Although since the end of the 1960s the United Kingdom had considerably reduced its presence “East of Suez” – an expression picked up by Boris Johnson in 2016 when he was Foreign Secretary –, the Conservative vision for “Global Britain” has entailed a redeployment of British interests towards Asia and a renewal of historical links with former colonies in the region, such as India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. British objectives in Asia – strategic, diplomatic and economic – also stem from an ambition to foster scientific cooperation and cultural exchanges with the countries of the region, and to contribute to their development. By becoming a “soft power superpower” (as the Integrated Review puts it), the United Kingdom not only aims to be the European country with the largest economic, strategic and cultural presence in Asia by 2030, but also to strike an independent course of action, outside of the European and American circles.
However, the United Kingdom’s ability to benefit from its shared history with several countries of the region has been limited by a political discourse which remains embedded in the traces, legacies, or even some of the structures, inherited from the colonial period, as diplomatic trips since 2010 have highlighted. Beyond the rhetoric, the United Kingdom’s new ambitions in Asia have been interpreted by several governmental and non-governmental actors as a neo-colonial or neo-imperial strategy, even though the post-Brexit conception of a “Global Britain” cannot be reduced to mere imperial nostalgia or an empire 2.0. Therefore, assessing the United Kingdom’s power of influence also means assessing the policies and practices of its parapublic and private channels, as well as those of its shifting paradiplomatic network.
Simultaneously, British interests in the region are colliding with Chinese hegemonic aspirations. The United Kingdom’s position towards China is rather difficult, alternating between a desire to defend human rights and condemn the country’s authoritarian regime, and the will to maintain stable relations with the world’s first economic power. After the Hong Kong national security law was voted in 2020, the United Kingdom launched a programme enabling Hong Kong residents to obtain British citizenship, thus causing a diplomatic crisis with China and impacting British economic interests. Very recently, India’s (and China’s) position regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reminded London of the complexity of the Asian theatre, as well as the shifting multilateral circles in which its Asian interlocutors interact. China and India, in particular, are key players that the United Kingdom (in the same way as its European and American partners) cannot ignore in other important regions of its foreign policy, such as Africa.
Consequently, the growing place of Asia, defined as the Eastern part of the Asian continent in British foreign policy (including East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the so-called “Indo-Pacific” area) leads us to consider the extent to which geopolitical challenges and societal transformations of the early 21st century have produced new conceptions and practices of British “soft power”. Although this special issue primarily focuses on the 21st century, we also encourage articles which take a historical perspective on Anglo-Asian relations, to analyse the impact of decolonisation processes in Asia on current British strategic, economic and cultural interests in the region. Articles may examine (non-exhaustive list):
- The place of Asia, in its plurality or taken globally, in the conception of “soft power” in contemporary British foreign policy
- The impact of bilateral and multilateral relations (United Nations, FPDA, Commonwealth, ASEAN, etc.) on British diplomatic practices
- The influence of the United Kingdom and Asia’s relations in other regions (on the African or American continents for example) on the definition, the evolution and the place of “soft power”
- The existence (or not) of a British specificity in its relations with other external powers in Asia (the United States, the European Union, etc.) and in its approach to a strategy of influence in the region
- The role of private actors, expatriates, family and non-profit networks in the transformation of British “soft power” (compared with “hard” or “smart” power) in Asia
- A one-page proposal (including research questions, outline and sources) and a short biography should be sent to Mélanie Torrent (email@example.com) and Lauriane Simony (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Final articles, in English or French, should be about 8,000 words long; a 150-word abstract (in English and French) and 5 keywords (in English and French) should also be submitted.
- Authors can include image files (tables, maps, graphs, photographs …) in .pdf or .jpg; they should ensure that images are free of rights (or that rights have been obtained).
- Each article will be peer-reviewed by two anonymous referees.
Deadline for the submission of article proposals: 5 June 2022.
Reply to authors: 15 June 2022.
Submission of a first copy of pre-selected articles: 30 September 2022.
Publication: March 2023.
Anthony, Ross and Uta Ruppert (eds.). Reconfiguring transregionalisation in the Global South: African-Asian Encounters. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
Best, Anthony (ed.). Britain’s Retreat from Empire in East Asia. London: Routledge, 2017.
Bickers, Robert and Jonathan J. Howlett (eds.). Britain and China, 1840-1970: Empire, finance and war. New York: Routledge, 2015.
Chitty, Naren, et al. (eds). The Routledge Handbook of Soft Power. London: Routledge, 2016.
Damm, Jens, Klimeš, Ondřej, Ptackova, Jarmila & Gary Rawnsley (eds.). Transnational Sites of China’s Cultural Diplomacy: Central Asia, Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe Compared. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2019.
Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. London: Allen Lane, 2012.
Dye, Barnaby Joseph. "New convergence tilt in India’s South-South cooperation with Africa", LSE Blog. 10 March 2022. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/southasia/2022/03/10/new-convergence-tilt-in-indias-south-south-cooperation-with-africa/
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Harrois, Thibaud. "L’Integrated Review de 2021 : une stratégie tous azimuts au service d’une Global Britain à l’ambition vague", Observatoire du Brexit. 25 May 2021. https://brexit.hypotheses.org/5215
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Paskal, Cleo. "Indo-Pacific strategies, perceptions and partnerships: the UK and the Indo-Pacific", Chatham House. 23 March 2021. https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/03/indo-pacific-strategies-perceptions-and-partnerships/03-uk-and-indo-pacific
Ranjan, Amit. "India’s South Asia policy: changes, continuity or continuity with changes", The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, vol. 108, n°3, 2019.
Rawnsley, Gary. "Challenging the Snake-Oil Salesmen: A Critique of British Approaches to Soft Power", Journal of International Communication, vol. 24, n°1, 2018.
Saunders, Robert. "Brexit and Empire : ‘Global Britain’ and the myth of imperial nostalgia", The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol. 48, n°6, 2020.
Sending, Ole Jacob, Pouliot, Vincent & Iver B. Neumann (eds). Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Summers, Tim. "Britain and Hong Kong : the 2019 protests and their aftermath", Asian Education and Development Studies, vol. 11, n°2, 2021.
Turner, Michael J. Britain and the World in the Twentieth Century: Ever-decreasing Circles. London: Continuum, 2010.
Turner, Oliver. "Global Britain and the Narrative of Empire", The Political Quaterly, vol. 90, n°4, 2019.