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World

UK seeks more influence in Indo-Pacific as 'moderating impact' on China

  • British foreign policy pivots towards Indo-Pacific.
  • US remains foremost UK ally, Russia named to top threat.
  • UK plans British aircraft carrier deployment to the region.
Published March 16, 2021

LONDON: Britain wants to expand its influence among countries in the Indo-Pacific region to try to moderate China's global dominance, a document laying out post-Brexit foreign and defence policy priorities said on Tuesday.

The document sets out a planned increase to Britain's nuclear arsenal to weigh against evolving global security threats, and underlines the importance of strong ties with the United States while naming Russia as the top regional threat.

Britain's biggest foreign and defence policy review since the end of the Cold War sets out how Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to be at the forefront of a reinvigorated, rules-based international order based on cooperation and free trade.

Calling the Indo-Pacific "increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world", the government highlighted a planned British aircraft carrier deployment to the region and said a previously postponed visit to India would go ahead in April.

"China and the UK both benefit from bilateral trade and investment, but China also presents the biggest state-based threat to the UK's economic security," the report said.

Britain, the world's sixth-largest economy, is dwarfed economically and militarily by China, but believes through soft power and strategic alliances it can help persuade Beijing to play by the rules of a new, more dynamic international system.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged Britain's attempts to influence Beijing had been marginal so far, telling Times Radio it was better acting "in concert with clusters of like-minded countries... to have the maximum impact and moderating impact on China."

The United States has also underlined the importance of the Indo-Pacific region under President Joe Biden and warned against China's growing assertiveness, and the European Union also hopes to deepen ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific.

The British government has long promised the "Integrated Review" will show that Britain, which left the EU last year, still has international clout after Brexit and will define a new era for the country.

"I am profoundly optimistic about the UK's place in the world and our ability to seize the opportunities ahead," Johnson said in the foreword to the review.

POST-BREXIT FUTURE

The document will be scrutinised for evidence of how the government will deliver on Johnson's promises as Britain copes with the economic and political fallout of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain said it would raise the upper limit on its nuclear warhead stock to 260 from 180, reversing a previously planned reduction.

"In recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats ... the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads," the review said.

The report classified Russia as "the most acute threat to our security" in the Euro Atlantic region.

"Until relations with its (Russia's) government improve, we will actively deter and defend against the full spectrum of threats emanating from Russia," the report said.

It took a more nuanced approach to China, calling Beijing's increasing power and assertiveness the most significant geopolitical factor of the decade and promising to challenge it where necessary and defend British national security.

In 2015, Britain's then finance minister, George Osborne, predicted a "golden" era in Chinese-British relations. But ties have frayed over issues including Beijing's handing of former British colony Hong Kong and security concerns around Chinese investment in Britain.

The report also affirmed the importance of Britain's relationship with the United States.

"The United States will remain our most important bilateral relationship, essential to key alliances and groups such as NATO and the Five Eyes, and our largest bilateral trading partner and inward investor," it said.

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