UK shifts diplomacy focus to the developing world

Associated Press
British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks at the opening of the Asian Financial Forum (AFF) Monday, Jan. 17, 2011 in Hong Kong. More than 1,600 participants from around the world are in Hong Kong for the forum, which opened today and continues through tomorrow. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

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Britain will shift its diplomatic focus to countries in the developing world as their economies and influence grow, its foreign secretary said Monday.

Britain is pursuing stronger ties with Asian economic powerhouses including China and India, renewing links with Latin America and broadening its relationship with Persian Gulf states, William Hague told a financial conference in the country's former colony of Hong Kong.

"As economic weight and political influence shifts to many of the countries of the East and the South, British diplomacy has to shift its weight accordingly," Hague said.

Britain's center-right Conservative-led coalition government took power less than a year ago and is trying to lead the country on an economic recovery. One of the key tools used to achieve that will be foreign policy and Hague said the Foreign Office will move more officials into working on trade policy.

Asia is an essential market for British business, Hague said, pointing out that Japan and China are the world's two biggest markets for luxury goods, which are one of the UK's big industries.

China will be a "particular focus of our diplomatic efforts," Hague said. Both countries have a strong interest in making the most of their trade and investment relationship, keeping their markets open to each other and pushing to lower global free trade barriers, he added.

Britain also hopes to step up cooperation with Asian countries on climate change, preventing nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and stemming international terrorism, he said.

Hague is heading to Australia and New Zealand in what will be the first visit by a British foreign secretary to the two countries in nearly 20 years.

Hague's visit to this Chinese territory follows a visit by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang last week to Europe, where he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

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