The UK is shifting its geopolitical weight towards the Indo-Pacific to take on China’s dominance, as part of the largest reset of foreign policy and defence since the Cold War.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced the publication of the long-awaited Integrated Review of security, defence, development, and foreign policy.
The blueprint emphasises traditional allies, such as the United States. But it also sets the nation’s sights on Asia.
“Britain will remain unswervingly committed to NATO and preserving peace and security in Europe, and from this secure basis, we will seek out friends and partners wherever they can be found, building a coalition for openness and innovation, and engaging more deeply in the Indo-Pacific,” Johnson told the House of Commons.
“Our approach will place diplomacy first and the UK has applied to become a dialogue partner of the Association of South East Asian Nations and we will seek to join the Trans-Pacific free trade agreement.”
The prime minister noted that the UK’s new aircraft carrier will be heading to the pacific later this year on her maiden voyage, “demonstrating the importance that we attach to freedom of the seas.”
The so-called “special relationship” with the United States endures. “In all our endeavours, the United States will be our greatest ally and a uniquely close partner in defence, intelligence, and security,” said Johnson.
Russia is still named as the top acute security threat. But China is now seen as the primary threat to economic security and as a long term “systemic competitor.”
The review says that the UK will invest in enhanced “China-facing capabilities,” and improve its response to “the systemic challenge that it poses to our security, prosperity and values—and those of our allies and partners.”
Johnson acknowledged that China’s human rights abuses, such as those in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, needed addressing, praising fellow lawmakers for their actions on the matters.
“There is no question that China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours,” he said. “But we will also work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests, including building a stronger and positive economic relationship and in addressing climate change.”
Johnson says the policy reset showcases post-Brexit Britain as an international, outward-looking nation.
“I believe, the United Kingdom, can thrive in an ever more competitive world, and fulfill our historic mission as a force for the good.”
The government is also rowing back on a previous commitment to reduce nuclear warheads from 225 to 180 by the middle of the decade.
Instead, it will increase the stockpile to 260 warheads in response to a rising nuclear and strategic threat.
“Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals,” says the review. “They are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new ‘warfighting’ nuclear systems which they are integrating into their military strategies and doctrines and into their political rhetoric to seek to coerce others.”