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Britain wants to increase its role in Asia

    Philippines President Benigno Aquino III, right, greets British Foreign Secretary William Hague during his visit to the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Romeo Ranoco, Pool)

MANILA, Philippines >> Britain is looking at increasing its involvement in Asia’s economy and security but will not take sides in territorial disputes in the South China Sea involving China and its smaller neighbors, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday.

Hague said during a visit to the Philippine capital that trade and security are closely related and thrive in open and free societies that follow the rule of law.

“Our engagement in Asia is as much about security as it is about as trade and prosperity, since these are all inextricably linked,” he told a forum of businessmen, diplomats and students.

“We want Britain to be a leading partner with Asian countries, in trade and commerce, in culture, education and development, and in foreign policy and security,” he added.

Hague said Britain is “investing in our relationships across the Asia-Pacific,” particularly with its “old friends” — Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

He said Britain also is building a “strong and open partnership with China fit for the 21st century.”

“We all need China to succeed, to continue to grow, and to play a responsible and active role in international affairs and in Asia,” he said.

Hague said Southeast Asian countries can find a peaceful solution to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

China claims virtually the entire region, putting it in conflict with Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. It is also in conflict with Japan over small islands in the East China Sea.

China recently angered the Philippines and Vietnam by announcing that it will regulate fishing in the South China Sea under its own laws starting this month.

China and rival claimants have beefed up their navies and stepped up patrols in the disputed territories, increasing the risk of confrontation. The Philippines has one of the weakest militaries in the region.

Hague said Britain supported resolving disputes in accordance with international law but “we don’t take a position on the substance of the claim.”

“I assure you that we will always encourage not just here but all over the world … a rules-based rather than a power-based solution to disputes,” he said.

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