The United Kingdom views China as representing an “epoch-defining challenge” to the world order and sees the UK and Europe’s security tied to Russia’s unsuccessful prosecution of its war on Ukraine, an update to the UK’s strategic foreign and defence policy blueprint states.
In a “refresh” to the Integrated Review (IR) policy paper, the UK highlights the challenges posed by China and its deepening partnership with Russia, as well as Moscow’s growing cooperation with Iran. The 63-page report unveiled on Monday toughens the UK’s language and positioning towards Beijing and Moscow and stresses the systematic and existential threat that both countries pose to the UK, Europe and the wider rules-based world order.
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Chinese state media responded to the UK report on Tuesday with warnings that London’s “continuous hype” of China as a threat would have negative consequences for relations between the two countries.
While the UK review for 2021 had already identified Russia as the “most acute threat to the UK’s security”, the latest review notes that the collective security of the UK and Europe is now bound up with the outcome of Moscow’s war on Ukraine and “denying Russia any strategic benefit from its invasion”.
“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, weaponisation of energy and food supplies and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, combined with China’s more aggressive stance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are threatening to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote in the foreword to the review.
Sunak said that “the pace of the geopolitical change and the extent of its impact on the UK and our people” could not have been foreseen even as recently as 2021, when the last review was published.
Through a refreshed Integrated Review, Defence will receive an additional £5 billion investment over the next two years to meet the challenges of a more volatile and complex world.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 13, 2023
The review notes that the UK’s provision of 2.3 billion pounds ($2.8bn) in military and humanitarian aid to Kyiv, as well as hundreds of targeted sanctions in coordination with allies, had “already weakened the Russian war machine … and set in motion international justice for Moscow’s egregious war crimes”.
“The UK’s objective will be to contain and challenge Russia’s ability and intent to disrupt the security of the UK, the Euro-Atlantic and the wider international order,” the review states.
Warnings about the threats posed by China were equally stark.
“China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses an epoch-defining and systemic challenge with implications for almost every area of government policy and the everyday lives of British people,” the review states.
Troubling for the UK is that Beijing has chosen to continue to strengthen its relationship with Russia despite Moscow’s aggression towards Ukraine, and that Beijing also continues to ignore international commitments on human rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet.
China’s “new multilateralism” was also posing a challenge to the protection of human rights and guarantees of freedoms under the United Nations system, as Beijing also engaged in “rapid and opaque military modernisation”, and maintained its position that force could be used to unite Taiwan with mainland China.
Unlike with Moscow, there was hope for relations with Beijing as the “UK does not accept that China’s relationship with the UK or its impact on the international system are set on a predetermined course”, the review adds.
“But we believe that this will depend on the choices China makes, and will be made harder if trends towards greater authoritarianism and assertiveness overseas continue.”
China’s state-run Global Times newspaper cited academic Liu Zuokui, a research fellow on European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, stating that it had become “routine” for the UK to make provocative statements against China, and that London was compensating for diminished stature on the world stage by adopting a “tough attitude towards China”.
“The UK’s tougher stand on China is to cater to the strategic goals of the US, and to enhance the so-called UK-US special relationship,” Liu told the Global Times. “If the UK government continues to be provocative toward China, the areas of cooperation are likely to be affected, which Sunak needs to consider,” he said.
Only by developing a correct perception of China and upholding mutual respect can China-UK relations move forward in a healthy and steady manner, said Chinese Embassy in the UK when commenting UK's release of 2023 Integrated Review Refresh https://t.co/kRt8vtOjsM
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) March 14, 2023
Increased defence and national security spending is required by the UK now and in the future, the review states, and includes plans to spend an extra 5 billion pounds ($6bn) on defence over the next two years, primarily focused on nuclear resilience and replenishing depleted ammunition stocks. The review also restates an ambition to dedicate 2.5 percent of the UK’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) spending to defence, up on the current 2.2 percent.
Monday’s release of the review coincided with the UK, the US and Australia deepening their AUKUS military pact by announcing the sale of US nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and also the collaboration of Washington, London and Canberra in the development of a new class of nuclear-powered submarines in the future.
Bronwen Maddox, director and CEO of the London-based Chatham House think tank, said that the review contains a gap – funding.
“The big gap in this review is money. Yes, we’ve got the great symbolism of the AUKUS announcement, but the question is whether the UK has the resources to do it,” Maddox told the Financial Times.
UK Integrated Review:
The choice of vocabulary reflects a long desire to balance forging commercial ties with an increasing wariness of data and security threats under President Xi’s leadership of China, writes @bronwenmaddox @dc_lawrence https://t.co/yUanoFN8GR
— Chatham House (@ChathamHouse) March 13, 2023
Pointing out that the review stopped short of calling China a direct threat, Chatham House said the choice of wording in the report “reflects a long desire to balance forging commercial ties with an increasing wariness of data and security threats under President Xi’s leadership of China”.
But, the UK government’s ability to truly “tilt” defence capabilities toward the Indo-Pacific remains in question due to cost, Chatham House said in a briefing on the review.
“The ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ which the UK declared two years ago is offered not just as a recognition of the region’s political and economic heft in any vision of the future, but as a favour to the US,” the think tank said.
“The UK lacks the resources to make that tilt credible in terms of substantial support to the US – nor, arguably, would it do the US any favours by neglecting the defence of Europe or the Middle East, which gets scant mention” in the review, it added.