While the foreign secretary changed in the last 24 hours, the most important announcement regarding the direction of UK foreign policy yesterday came outside of the reshuffle. Overnight, the UK, US and Australia announced a new defence arrangement – known as the Aukus pact – in the Asia pacific, which will see Australia build nuclear-powered submarines using US technology as well as collaborate on other technologies.
The purpose of this new arrangement? While the respective governments have not specifically said it, it's viewed as a counter to China that will see the three countries team up against Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. In a sign of its purpose, the Chinese government has been quick to criticise the move. The Chinese embassy in Washington suggested the arrangement reflects a Cold War mentality, with China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian arguing the pact will undermine 'regional peace and stability' and intensify 'the arms race'. China's embassy in Washington accused the countries of a 'Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice'.
The agreement is also causing problems with the usual allies of the US, UK and Australia. France is on the offensive as the new submarine arrangement means that the Australian government has reneged on a £47 billion deal to build a fleet of 12 diesel-powered submarines with a French company. Meanwhile, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said the vessels will not be allowed to enter its waters.
When it comes to allies, the new pact suggests that the countries involved are now looking beyond the Five Eyes – the intelligence alliance made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Given New Zealand takes a softer approach to China, it's not so surprising they wouldn't want to be involved. But it shows how new alliances are coming together.
Liz Truss today starts her first full day in the job of foreign secretary. Given her own hawkish tendencies on China, you can expect that she will be taking up the mantel when it comes to pivoting the UK's foreign policy to the Indo-Pacific.