Sunak: More Indo-Pacific Hubris
Britain’s security and prosperity do not revolve around the Malacca Strait
Last night Rishi Sunak abandoned Liz Truss’ pledge to designate China a “threat” to Britain’s national security. That is a welcome change from where both Truss and Boris Johnson were trying to take the UK’s relationship with the emerging superpower.
Because there is a clear and present threat: Russia and its allies, who are committing genocide and war crimes in Ukraine, and who wish to rip up Europe’s security order by force.
In the language of international relations to define a country as a “threat” is an altogether more alarming term than to say it’s a competitor or rival. Threat signals danger, requiring an obligatory reaction in the formation of alliances, the development of soft and hard counter-power.
So Sunak reverted to the language of systemic competition, as outlined in the Integrated Review. He called for “robust pragmatism” in Britain’s dealings with China, saying:
“We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests; a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.”
This is a clash of systems — economic, political and moral — that can be managed through “diplomacy and engagement” he said.
The pullback from confrontation was clear enough to trigger Iain Duncan Smith into accusations of “appeasement”. But it is sensible — for the simple reason that a medium-sized economy located at the Western edge of Europe, possessing 19 surface warships and staring down the barrel of decade-long austerity, is in no position to confront more than one enemy at a time.
In fact, a close reading of Sunak’s speech shows him dissing not only Truss but Johnson: taking a dig at the “grand rhetoric” and “Cold War rhetoric” with which Johnson sought to justify the so-called Indo-Pacific tilt. The “tilt” would, in its original design, have seen the Royal Navy making a “regular drumbeat” of deployments of its aircraft carrier strike group into waters off China.
However, the tilt survives, along with its underlying conceit — that because Britain has left the EU, its economic future depends on trade with…