Tory revolt as review calls for ‘deeper trade links’ with China


Boris Johnson is facing a Tory revolt today as he unveils a major review calling for ‘deeper trade links’ with China – despite admitting it is a ‘systemic’ threat to the West.

Announcing a strategy that could define Britain’s future as a world power, the PM said he wanted the country to ‘relearn the art of competing against states with opposing values’.

The limit on the number of nuclear warheads is set to be increased from 180 to 260 – although the Integrated Review of security, defence, and foreign policy also heralds a huge shift in emphasis from conventional forces to cutting edge warfare, with investment in cyber, space and laser weapons.

In a stance that risks provoking outrage from Conservative MPs, the report takes a much softer tone on China than to Russia, saying that although it is an ‘authoritarian state’ it will be ‘an increasingly important partner’.

‘China is an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges like pandemic preparedness, biodiversity and climate change. We will continue to pursue a positive economic relationship, including deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK,’ the document says.

Mr Johnson told MPs that the government had been at the forefront of criticising Beijing over human rights abuses. ‘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.’ 

However, Tory defence select committee chief Tobias Ellwood said he had hoped Mr Johnson would take the opportunity to ‘call out’ China for the ‘geo-strategic threat it is’. 

Intelligence committee chair Julian Lewis warned that the ‘grasping naivety of the Cameron Osborne years’ towards China ‘still lingers’ in some departments. Foreign Affairs committee head Tom Tugendhat said the review was only a ‘start’ in rebalancing the UK’s approach.

The position comes despite former MI6 chief Alex Younger warning this morning that China poses a ‘generational threat’ and the idea it will adopt Western values on freedom and democracy is ‘for the birds’.  

Elsewhere, the wide-ranging review says a successful chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack is ‘likely’ by 2030.

And worryingly the document says another pandemic is a ‘realistic possibility’ this decade. ‘Infectious disease outbreaks are likely to be more frequent to 2030,’ it says. 

In his statement this afternoon, Mr Johnson warned that Western values are not guaranteed to come out on top. He also restated his commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of Britain’s income on aid once the coronavirus crisis is past.

‘The truth is that even if we wished it – and of course we do not – the UK could never turn inwards or be content with the cramped horizons of a regional foreign policy,’ the premier said.

‘For us, there are no faraway countries of which we know little. Global Britain is not a reflection of old obligations, still less a vainglorious gesture, but a necessity for the safety and prosperity of the British people in the decades ahead.’

The integrated review

Boris Johnson (left) will set out a ‘more robust position on security and deterrence’ that could see troops sent overseas more regularly, and for longer periods of time. Pictured right, the review

The IR document highlights the strengths the UK has in adjusting to the challenges of the coming decade

The IR document highlights the strengths the UK has in adjusting to the challenges of the coming decade

Vladimir Putin

China president Xi Jinping

The review is set to highlight the ‘active threat’ of Russia under Vladimir Putin (left). Right, China’s president Xi Jinping

The SitCen is at the heart of the huge defence, security and foreign policy review due to be unveiled by Boris Johnson on March 16

The SitCen is at the heart of the huge defence, security and foreign policy review due to be unveiled by Boris Johnson on March 16

The 100-page review sets out the Government’s view of Britain’s place in the world after Brexit. 

It declares: ‘We will move from defending the status quo within the post-Cold War international system to dynamically shaping the post-Covid order.’

There will be a £24billion rise in spending on defence as the UK moves into the ‘new frontiers’ of space and cyber-warfare. Key points in the review are:

  • Britain is to lift the maximum number of Trident nuclear warheads it can stockpile by more than 40 per cent, from 180 to 260;
  • The terrorist threat to the UK, including Islamist and Northern Ireland-linked extremists, remains ‘all too real’;
  • There is a ‘realistic possibility’ that terror groups could launch a successful attack involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons by 2030;
  • The UK should pursue a ‘positive trade and investment relationship’ with China while protecting national security;
  • Britain’s bases in Kenya, Oman, Singapore, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Germany will be revamped so troops can respond more quickly to threats.

The review also paves the way for cuts to conventional forces, with the RAF set to lose 24 Typhoon jets and its 14 Super Hercules transport planes.

The Navy is thought to be facing the loss of two submarine-hunting frigates, HMS Montrose and HMS Monmouth, as well as its 13 minehunters, which are due to be replaced by drones.

And Army commanders are expected to have to say goodbye to 10,000 personnel, four infantry battalions, 77 tanks and 760 Warrior fighting vehicles. 

The wide-ranging document sets out an ambition to be at the forefront of a green industrial revolution

The wide-ranging document sets out an ambition to be at the forefront of a green industrial revolution

The HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will be deployed to the Indo-Pacific region as sources say ministers believe it is becoming the 'geopolitical centre of the world'

The HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group will be deployed to the Indo-Pacific region as sources say ministers believe it is becoming the ‘geopolitical centre of the world’

The flash points in the war of words between Britain and Beijing

Britain and Beijing have clashed repeatedly in recent years with tensions between the two sides steadily rising. 

The main issues of contention have been the treatment of the Uighur people, the coronavirus pandemic, Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network and Hong Kong. 

Human rights abuses

China has faced repeated accusations of human rights abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang province.  

Boris Johnson today said Britain has led the world in ‘expressing our deep concern’ at China’s treatment of the Uighur people as he insisted the UK will continue to defend its values on the world stage.   

The UK Government is under growing pressure from Tory MPs to take a tougher stance on the issue amid calls for sanctions to be imposed on any Chinese government officials involved in human rights abuses. 

There have also been calls for the UK to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, something Mr Johnson has signalled he is not in favour of. 

The Government has been highly critical of Beijing, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stating last July that it is clear that ‘gross, egregious human rights abuses’ are being perpetrated against the Uighur people in northern China. 

Beijing has rejected the accusations of human rights abuses. 

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, last year hit back at the ‘false accusations’ after he was confronted with video footage of Uighur people being detained and forced onto a train in Xinjiang.

Hong Kong

Beijing’s decision to impose a controversial national security law on Hong Kong last year prompted the UK to announce a path to citizenship for three million Hong Kongers with British National (Overseas) status.  

Critics argued the national security law would be used as a tool to crackdown on dissent after a wave of pro-democracy protests in the city. 

China accused the UK of treating it like a ‘hostile country’ in the wake of the citizenship decision and warned Britain will ‘pay the price’. 

Tensions further increased this month after China approved a controversial ‘patriotic’ plan to control elections in Hong Kong, prompting Mr Raab to accuse Beijing of further ‘hollowing out’ democracy.

Coronavirus

Downing Street prompted fury in Beijing in May last year after it said there are ‘questions that need to be answered’ about the origin of Covid-19. 

Number 10’s comments came after then-US president Donald Trump claimed to have seen evidence the disease came from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan. 

Mr Trump made the explosive claim but refused to reveal what the evidence was. 

Number 10 would not be drawn on the specifics of Mr Trump’s comments but again reiterated its desire for an international probe into the start of the outbreak.

Huawei

The UK Government announced in January last year that Chinese communications giant Huawei would be granted a role in building Britain’s new 5G network. 

But ministers then performed a U-turn in July, with the firm banned from the network while all of its existing 5G technology will be stripped out by 2027 over national security concerns.

The review – billed as the most radical reassessment of Britain’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War – has taken a year to draw up.

It backs the creation of a new state-of-the-art counter-terrorism operations centre to streamline the response of police and the intelligence agencies in the event of an attack.

The will also be a new ‘situation centre’ in the Cabinet Office similar to the White House situation room where Barack Obama was able to watch the US special forces operation to kill Osama bin Laden in real time.

The 100-page document – entitled Global Britain in a Competitive Age – argues the increase in nuclear warheads cap is ‘in recognition of the evolving security environment’ and the ‘developing range of technological and doctrinal threats’.

‘A minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, assigned to the defence of Nato, remains essential in order to guarantee our security and that of our allies,’ it says.

‘Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. 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.’

The review reveals that as part of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ to keep enemies guessing, Britain will no longer disclose the extent of its ‘operational stockpile’ of nuclear weapons, or says how many warheads or missiles are deployed.

‘This ambiguity complicates the calculations of potential aggressors, reduces the risk of deliberate nuclear use by those seeking a first-strike advantage, and contributes to strategic stability.’

The review says Britain will not target nuclear weapons at any non-nuclear state unless they are in breach of non-proliferation obligations. ‘However, we reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary,’ it says.

In the Euro-Atlantic, the UK will be one of only two NATO Allies to bring to bear nuclear, offensive cyber, precision strike weapons and fifth-generation strike aircraft,’ the report says. 

The review insists the UK will ‘not hesitate’ to defend its values and will increase the protection of critical infrastructure, such as the national grid, transport and water supplies.

However in a section that will alarm Tory hawks on China it also argues that the UK will need to pursue a positive economic relationship including ‘deeper trade links and more Chinese investment’.

The shift will be underlined by the deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group to the region on its maiden operational mission later this year.

‘China’s growing international stature is by far the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today, with major implications for British values and interests and for the structure and shape of the international order,’ the review said.

‘The fact that China is an authoritarian state, with different values to ours, presents challenges for the UK and our allies. 

‘China will contribute more to global growth than any other country in the next decade with benefits to the global economy. 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.

Review hints at nuclear retaliation to ’emerging’ weapons as warhead limit raised

Nuclear weapons could be targeted at states that threaten the UK with weapons based on ’emerging technologies’, the government review said today.  

The UK’s limit on warheads is being lifted from 180 to 260, with Labour complaining that it ends three decades of gradual disarmament. 

But the 100-page document argues the increase in warheads is ‘in recognition of the evolving security environment’ and the ‘developing range of technological and doctrinal threats’.

‘Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. 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.’

The review reveals that as part of ‘deliberate ambiguity’ to keep enemies guessing, Britain will no longer disclose the extent of its ‘operational stockpile’ of nuclear weapons, or says how many warheads or missiles are deployed.

‘This ambiguity complicates the calculations of potential aggressors, reduces the risk of deliberate nuclear use by those seeking a first-strike advantage, and contributes to strategic stability.’

The review says Britain will not target nuclear weapons at any non-nuclear state unless they are in breach of non-proliferation obligations. ‘However, we reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, or emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact, makes it necessary,’ it says.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was important to maintain a ‘minimum credible level of deterrent’.

Asked why the Government would want to increase the amount, the Foreign Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Because over time as the circumstances change and the threats change, we need to maintain a minimum credible level of deterrent.

‘Why? Because it is the ultimate guarantee, the ultimate insurance policy against the worst threat from hostile states.’ 

‘We will require a robust diplomatic framework for this relationship that allows us to manage disagreements, defend our values and preserve space for cooperation where our interests align.

‘China is an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges like pandemic preparedness, biodiversity and climate change. We will continue to pursue a positive economic relationship, including deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK. 

‘At the same time, we will increase protection of our CNI, institutions and sensitive technology, and strengthen the resilience of our critical supply chains, so that we can engage with confidence. We will not hesitate to stand up for our values and our interests where they are threatened, or when China acts in breach of existing agreements. 

‘The UK has responded to China’s actions in Hong Kong by creating a new immigration route for British Nationals (Overseas) and their eligible family members and dependents, and to China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang through measures to ensure that British organisations are neither complicit in nor profiting from them.’ 

Senior Tories lined up to urge the PM to take a tough line on China in the Commons this afternoon. 

Dr Lewis said pointed to the emphasis on cooperating with Beijing, saying: ‘Doesn’t that unfortunately demonstrate that the grasping naivety of the Cameron Osborne years still lingers on in some departments of state?’

Mr Ellwood said there was a 1930s feel to the global situation, and suggested Mr Johnson should have emulated Winston Churchill’s famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech after the Second World War when he laid bare the challenge from Soviet Russia.

‘I was hoping for a Fulton Missouri moment when we finally call out China for the geo-strategic threat that it is,’ Mr Ellwood said.

Sir Alex Younger said this morning that there will continue to be an ‘ideological divergence’ between the UK and China.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There’s no doubt that China represents the generational threat, and the reason for that is that the idea that China will become more like us as it gets richer, or as its economy matured, is clearly for the birds.

‘That’s not going to happen. On the contrary I expect China’s Communist Party to double down on its ideology in the future.

‘There’s going to be an ideological divergence between us in the future, that’s going to generate rivalry and reduce trust.’

Asked if China will become the world’s biggest power, he added: ‘There’s no doubt that China feels advantage at the moment and the pandemic has closed the gap between us in some important ways.

‘The language China understands is strength and we need to generate that strength through technological innovations and stewarding our alliances.’

On Russia, the document says: ‘Russia will remain the most acute direct threat to the UK, and the US will continue to ask more from its allies in Europe in sharing the burden of collective security.’

Mr Johnson made a personal commitment to to restore foreign aid spending to 0.7 per cent of national income ‘when the fiscal situation allows’ following furious criticism of cuts to support for Yemen and other countries.

But he faced more Tory ire, with former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell warning that refusing to hold a Commons vote on the cut will leave the government open to a judicial review. 

The controversial foreign aid target was reduced to 0.5 per cent in Rishi Sunak’s spending review last year.

But ministers appear to be backtracking on the commitment to change the law, which currently requires 0.7 per cent to be spent. Instead, they are considering relying on a loophole which allows for a lower level of spending when finances are tight.

The reduction in the target will save about £4billion, making the budget £10billion.

The premier argued that while Nato remains the bedrock of UK security in the Euro-Atlantic region, the country can no longer rely on an ‘increasingly outdated international’ to protect its interests.

At a time when some countries are seeking to undermine the open and liberal international order which emerged following the Cold War, he is expected to say the UK needs to use ‘all the tools at our disposal’ to ensure a world where democracies can still flourish.

Defence debt ‘could wipe out £16billion boost for budget’

Billions of pounds promised for military equipment could be lost in a ‘funding black hole’.

The warning by MPs comes as Boris Johnson launches a long-awaited review of security, defence and foreign policy.

The Prime Minister has pledged £16.5billion for cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, unmanned aircraft and ‘directed-energy’ weapons. 

But the Commons Public Accounts Committee said much of this money will be needed to pay for kit already ordered by the Ministry of Defence. 

It estimates top brass have run up debts of up to £17.4billion on aircraft, ships and weapons.

Meg Hillier, the Labour chairman of the committee, said this could mean the £16.5billion is ‘swallowed whole’.

The MoD said it had ‘secured a substantial settlement over four years in order to restore financial sustainability’. 

In his foreword to the IR, Mr Johnson said Brexit marked a ‘new chapter in our history’ and the UK was now ‘open to the world, free to tread our own path’.

Mr Johnson said: ‘Few nations are better placed to navigate the challenges ahead, but we must be willing to change our approach and adapt to the new world emerging around us.

‘Open and democratic societies like the UK must demonstrate they are match-fit for a more competitive world.’

He told MPs: ‘I am profoundly optimistic about the UK’s place in the world and our ability to seize the opportunities ahead.

‘The ingenuity of our citizens and the strength of our Union will combine with our international partnerships, modernised armed forces and a new green agenda, enabling us to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future.’

The publication comes after the Prime Minister announced in November a £16.5billion increase in defence spending over the next four years focusing on the future battlefields of space and cyber.

However, military chiefs have made clear the investment in new technologies will mean cuts to some ‘industrial age’ capabilities to be set out in further paper by the Ministry of Defence next week .

The Army is expected to be the biggest loser with troop numbers expected to be slashed by more than 10,000, while its fleet of Challenger 2 main battle tanks is expected to be reduced by a third and the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle retired altogether.

The papers lay out a pledge to protect Gibraltar and the Falklands. 

Armed Forces will ‘deter and challenge incursions in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters’ and ‘maintain a permanent presence in the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and the British Indian Ocean Territory’, the documents say. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘This review is built on foundations that have been weakened over the last decade.

‘The Prime Minister has spoken about an era of retreat – he’s right. In the last decade of Conservative government, defence spending and pay for the armed forces both fell in real terms. Our armed forces numbers have been cut by 45,000.’

Sir Keir welcomed the ‘long overdue’ increase in capital funding, the creation of a counter-terrorism operations centre and new investment in cyber, but added: ‘The Prime Minister can’t avoid the question that everyone in our armed forces and their families will be asking today: will there be further cuts to the strength of our Army and our armed forces?

‘The British Army is already 6,000 below the minimal level set out in the last review, it’s been cut every year for the last decade, and it’s been reported that the Army will see a further reduction of 10,000 alongside fewer tanks, fewer jets for the RAF and fewer frigates for the Royal Navy.’

The Navy is said to be facing the loss of two submarine-hunting frigates, HMS Montrose and HMS Monmouth, as well as its 13 minehunters, which are due to be replaced by drones

The Navy is said to be facing the loss of two submarine-hunting frigates, HMS Montrose and HMS Monmouth, as well as its 13 minehunters, which are due to be replaced by drones



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