The British Royal Navy, in a significant strategic move, has announced plans to deploy one of its two aircraft carriers to the Indo-Pacific region next year.

With its potential to unsettle China, the deployment underscores the UK’s growing regional role.

A squadron of F-35 fighters and naval escorts will join the carrier, which is expected to work with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces (MSDF).

It would be the second time the United Kingdom will send its carrier group to the region after the 2021 deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

London will also send to Tokyo later this year at least 200 troops to a planned joint military exercise with Japan, a demonstration of the United Kingdom’s growing defense cooperation with Japan.

The United Kingdom began shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific region after London voted to exit from the European Union in June 2016.

It has strengthened its defense relations with Indo-Pacific states, supporting the rules-based international order by conducting freedom of navigation operations (Fonops) in the South China Sea.

Diplomatically, the United Kingdom has appointed an ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and sought to become the bloc’s dialogue partner, and participate in the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM Plus) mechanism.

It has also signed free trade deals with Singapore and Vietnam.

London had asked to join the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that covers a 13 percent share of global gross domestic product.

In a way, London wanted to strengthen its position in the Asian market, which has been demonstrating high growth rates, as an alternative to Europe.

But, some analysts also see that the British share with the Americans some concerns and skepticism that China may be developing a plan to rival and replace the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a threat to Western financial and banking institutions.

After Brexit, the United Kingdom has refocused its economic, diplomatic, and defense interests to the Indo-Pacific region.

However, the British strategic shift to the Indo-Pacific region could pose some problems in the region.

The United Kingdom’s increasing presence in the Indo-Pacific region could further escalate regional tensions.

China still remembers what the Royal Navy HMS Albion, a landing platform dock, did in 2018 when it sailed in the territorial waters of the disputed Paracel Islands.

China has accused the United Kingdom of serving as a proxy for the United States as Washington has called on other states to support freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

More recently, China suspected the British of being part of the United States plan to create a NATO-like organization in the region.

Some Southeast Asian states were also uncomfortable with the United Kingdom’s role in Australia’s plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the Australia-United Kingdom-United Kingdom (AUKUS) arrangement.

Some suspected the British entry into the region to be a way to divide ASEAN because of the perceived anti-China and anti-Russia agenda.

Some security analysts also believe London’s efforts to enlist Tokyo and Seoul could be a way to “wash away” its one-sided Anglo-Saxon character, which aims to turn the alliance into a full-scale military-politico bloc.

This development could pose a threat similar to what happened in East Europe.

It could revive the United Kingdom’s colonial past through its Commonwealth setup and spread British influence in the region.

Southeast Asia is vulnerable to foreign control because of its history and the dominance of Western-centric alliances.

It must resist Western pressures to take sides in the emerging big powers rivalry between the United States and China, with the United Kingdom playing a larger role through its colonial links with most states in the region.

The United States may not be trying to replicate NATO in the Indo-Pacific but China’s reaction to increasing British role may heighten regional tensions.

Like the rest of ASEAN, the Philippines should try to keep its non-aligned stance and avoid supporting a security arrangement that could be seen as a replica of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

It must sustain ASEAN centrality and avoid being perceived as an American pawn in the big powers game.

The Philippine could suffer the most in case a real conflict erupts in the region.