Ministerial Update August 2018

As Parliament rises for the Summer Recess, I would like to take this opportunity to provide a brief overview of some of my recent work and overseas visits I have undertaken in my role as Minister for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have been in post for just over a year now and it continues to be an immense honour and privilege to represent the UK around the world.

At the end of June I returned to Bangladesh and visited women’s safe spaces in the refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar and met refugees, humanitarian workers, and civil society leaders to understand the needs of women and girls caught up in the Rohingya crisis. Together with the UK’s Special Envoy for Gender Equality, Joanna Roper, we met senior ministers in Dhaka to discuss the crisis as well as girls’ and women’s education in Bangladesh more widely.

Over 706,364 people have fled from their homes in Burma’s Rakhine State into Bangladesh since August 2017, joining around 340,000 Rohingya who had previously fled.

We visited Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, where over a million refugees are living in crowded and unsafe refugee camps, and met refugee families and community leaders to learn about the persecution they suffered in Rakhine, and to hear about the challenges that life in the camps presents. We saw first-hand the damage caused by recent monsoon rains, and the work of the Government of Bangladesh and humanitarian agencies to protect the refugees.

What I witnessed was truly heart-breaking and only redoubles my determination to support the refugees and keep up the pressure on the Burmese authorities. The UK remains a leading donor to the crisis, committing £129m since September last year to support the refugees and vulnerable host communities. We will continue to use international pressure and dialogue with the Burmese authorities to make progress.

As we entered Recess in the middle of July, I undertook a two part visit firstly to Mongolia and then on to China. Whilst in Mongolia I met with the Foreign Minister, the Environment Minister, Finance Minister and Mining Minister as we discussed a whole range of issues, including trade and investment, the environment, the Illegal Wildlife Trade, education and sporting links. It was a pleasure to visit Mongolia for the first time, especially as we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between the UK and Mongolia.

We also undertook a fascinating visit to Oyu Tolgoi, one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world and was certainly one of the most eye catching places I have ever visited! This is a site of great cooperation between the UK and Mongolia and will help drive Mongolian prosperity for decades to come.

Following my time in Mongolia, I headed to China for my second official trip for a five day visit. Whilst there I was able to visit Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Nanjing and Shanghai, in a programme reflecting the breadth of business, investment and science and innovation links between the UK and China, which is an essential partner for the UK in many areas. It was an honour to have the opportunity to visit different parts of the country to experience the depth of cooperation between out two countries.

My visit to Chongqing coincided with the celebrations on the 35th anniversary of Chevening, the UK government’s global flagship scholarship programme, in China. During this time we have funded over 50,000 scholars to study at top universities across the UK. More than 4,000 of those from China.

During my year or so as Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific I have been fortunate enough to visit nearly all the countries in the region, and I always make of point of meeting Chevening alumni scholars wherever I can. Hearing about their positive experiences; the contacts they have made; and above all seeing the affection they have for the UK has left me in no doubt that this is an immensely valuable programme, for all our countries.

I hope this update is able to provide an outline of some of the work I have undertaken in the last couple of months in my ministerial role. Please do look on my Twitter page and my page on the website for much more of what I am doing in Government.