British PM visits Southeast Asia with trade, IS on agenda
British Prime Minister David Cameron began a visit to Southeast Asia on Monday, looking to seal $1.2 billion in trade deals and push for greater cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Cameron arrived in Indonesia on the first stop of a four-day trip, accompanied by 30 British business leaders and his minister of state for trade Francis Maude, before he heads to Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Following talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta, he said the pair had agreed to step up efforts to combat the "evil threat" posed by IS.
Hundreds of young Britons have joined IS in Syria and Iraq, sparking fears they could launch attacks on home soil upon their return, while Indonesia fears up to 500 of its citizens have been lured to the Middle East by the jihadists.
"We've agreed to step up our joint efforts both to tackle the terrorist threat and to counter the extremist narrative," he said in a statement with Widodo at the presidential palace, adding IS was a "shared enemy".
Cameron said Britain would provide support for counter-terrorism efforts in Indonesia, which is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country and has long struggled with Islamic extremism.
Measures will include helping to improve security at airports, enhanced cooperation on terrorism investigations and the training of Indonesian police officers in Britain, he said.
Cameron is also set to use a meeting this week with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Muslim-majority Malaysia to discuss the threat posed by IS jihadists, who have seized vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.
The issue is in sharp focus in Britain after 30 of its nationals were killed in an attack in Tunisia claimed by the jihadists, and Cameron suggested earlier Monday his government would be willing to take military action against the group if there was a threat to the country.
The prime minister said he would always want to take "immediate action" against any threat, "whether that problem is emanating from Libya, from Syria or anywhere else", according to British media.
- Death row grandmother -
With trade a major focus as Britain seeks new markets in fast-growing Asia, Cameron is pushing for deals worth more than £750 million ($1.2 billion) during the trip.
After meeting Widodo, he said Indonesia could "benefit from British expertise", and referred to engineering and energy companies that could help with the president's plans to build more infrastructure, and to top British universities.
Accompanying him are senior figures from prominent British businesses including aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce and construction equipment maker JCB.
A sensitive issue during the visit to Indonesia was the plight of a British grandmother on death row in Indonesia for drug smuggling, and Cameron had suggested he would raise the subject during his meeting with Widodo.
The premier said he always touches on the issue of prisoners on visits to other countries and would do so in Indonesia.
"I want to do it in a way I hope will help the family concerned, and obviously will listen to the concerns of the families and their views before doing these things," he told British media.
He will also seek progress on a free trade deal between the European Union and the 10-member Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) during talks with the regional bloc's secretary general at its Jakarta headquarters later Monday.
The prime minister could run into controversy during his stop in Malaysia, which comes as Najib is facing outrage over allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars were siphoned off from a state-owned development company which he launched and retains close links with.
The premier and the company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), have both vehemently denied any wrongdoing. The case is being investigated by Malaysian authorities and a parliamentary committee.
© 2015 AFP