Britain is prepared to deploy troops to Asia amid regional tensions as part of a greater post-Brexit commitment, Boris Johnson has said.
The Foreign Secretary is ending a nine-day tour of Japan, New Zealand and Australia, as he tries to forge new trade relationships for when the UK quits the EU.
Mr Johnson revealed his trip was also planned to pass on the message that Britain is “now going to be more committed to the Asia-Pacific region” as the UK looks “afresh” at the area after Brexit.
In an interview with The Australian newspaper, the Cabinet minister suggested this could include military involvement.
He said: “One of the things I find everywhere I go is that people want more Britain, not less Britain.
“They want a Britain that is more engaged, not less engaged. When I talk about global Britain they genuinely see the point.
“This is an area of fantastic growth. It’s also an area of tension.
“People want the involvement of a country that sticks up for a rules-based international system, that is prepared to deploy its military in the area, as we are.”
Mr Johnson backed up his remarks at the annual Aukmin meeting of Australia’s and Britain’s foreign and defence ministers in Sydney.
The Foreign Secretary revealed he and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who also attended the summit, discussed with their Australian counterparts the North Korea crisis, South East Asia’s terror threat and efforts to deepen the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangement.
It is an alliance comprising of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Mr Johnson insisted Britain and Australia’s “friendship is going to deepen in the years ahead”, adding at a press conference: “As we go through the process of leaving the arrangements of the EU, we are going to widen our horizons and work even more closely.
“We have today reaffirmed our shared goal of concluding a free trade agreement as soon as possible after we leave the EU.”
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox would soon be travelling to Australia to convene a bilateral trade working group, Mr Johnson said.
A “great” trade deal would cover the issue of UK visas for Australians, the Foreign Secretary said.
He claimed Australians currently “more or less get kissed on both cheeks and welcomed to the country”, adding: “We have an extremely open and generous regime in favour of our Australian friends being able to come.
“What we will be able to do once we take back control of our immigration arrangements is to have a system that is fair between everybody.
“We want to welcome talented Australians.”
After spending some of his time in Sydney jogging through the city’s Botanical Gardens, Mr Johnson thanked foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop for her gift of “a very beautiful pair of compression tights, as worn by Hugh Jackman”.