Britain cast China as representing an “epoch-defining challenge” to the world order in an update to its foreign policy framework and also said the United Kingdom’s security hinged on the outcome of the Ukraine war.
The refresh of Britain’s blueprint for security and international policy, published on Monday, warned of China’s deepening partnership with Russia and Moscow’s growing cooperation with Iran following the invasion of Ukraine.
The Integrated Review (IR) hardened the language and positioning towards Beijing and Moscow from the first edition two years ago.
But the decision to still not describe China as a threat was likely to disappoint many in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, who also believe his pledge to spend an extra 5 billion pounds ($6 billion) on defence is insufficient to support Ukraine without leaving Britain vulnerable.
“What could not be fully foreseen in 2021 was the pace of the geopolitical change and the extent of its impact on the UK and our people,” Sunak wrote in a foreword to the IR.
“Since then, 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.”
The update was released as Sunak visited San Diego to agree the next steps in a defence agreement, AUKUS, with U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Of Britain’s extra defence spending, 3 billion pounds will go towards nuclear projects, including help for Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, part of efforts to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
When it was first published in 2021, the Integrated Review described China as a “systemic competitor”.
The updated document said: “China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses an epoch-defining and systemicTchallenge with implications for almost every area of government policy and the everyday lives of British people.”
It also included a direct reference to Taiwan which had previously been absent.
“It has pursued rapid and opaque military modernisation with huge new investments, militarised disputed islands in the South China Sea, and refused to renounce the use of force to achieve its objectives with regard to Taiwan.”
While it outlined that Britain would step up its national security protections, the government said its preference was for better cooperation and understanding with Beijing, recognising its economic might.
“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,” it said.
Among other measures, Britain has created a National Protective Security Authority, part of the MI5 intelligence agency, to help businesses and institutions to fend off state threats, especially from China.
While saying tensions in the Indo-Pacific “could have global consequences greater than the conflict in Ukraine”, Britain said Russia still remained the most acute threat.
“What has changed is that our collective security now is intrinsically linked to the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine,” the IR added.
Britain and other Western countries have increased their pledges of military aid for Ukraine this year, with promises of tanks and armoured vehicles as well as longer-range weapons.
On the other hand, they have expressed concern at support for Russia being potentially offered by China and Iran.
“China’s deepening partnership with Russia and Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine are two developments of particular concern,” the IR said.
With Sunak under pressure to do more to help the defence ministry combat inflation and replace weapons sent to Ukraine, two billion pounds will go towards replenishing and increasing conventional stockpiles and investing in munitions infrastructure.
“We’re sliding towards a new Cold War. Threats are increasing. Yet here we are staying on a peacetime budget,” Tobias Ellwood, Conservative lawmaker and Chair of the Defence Committee told parliament.