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Russia an ‘acute’ threat, China an ‘epoch defining’ challenge: U.K. Government

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Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left to right, Col Jaimie Norman, Admiral Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord, and Commander Gus Carnie during Sunak’s visit to San Diego, on March 13, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

The U.K. government called Russia the “most acute threat” to Britain’s security and termed China an “epoch-defining” challenge, as it released a ‘refresh’ of its foreign and security policy, the Integrated Review 2023 (IR2023), two years after the first version (IR2021) was released.

On India, the strategy continues with themes set out in 2021, developing the 2030 Roadmap between the two countries and working towards a free trade agreement (FTA).

Initiated by the Liz Truss government, the updated document says the Euro-Atlantic remains the U.K.’s “overriding” geographic priority and calls the threat from Russia the “most pressing” foreign policy and national security priority. It sets an objective of denying Russia “any strategic benefit” from invading Ukraine, pledging another GBP 5 billion in arms over the next two years, including toward nuclear facilities and submarines.

This announcement comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is in San Diego finalising the next phase of a security partnership, ‘AUKUS’ , with the U.S. and Australia, to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. The U.K. government also committed to investing 2.5% of GDP in defence, above the 2% NATO target.

While Russia and Europe remain its top priorities, the Indo-Pacific is listed as second on the list of geographic priorities. To this end , the U.K. seeks to go beyond IR2021 and prioritise partnerships in the Euro-Atlantic as well as Indo-Pacific. It will also prioritise working with countries and groups that have Indo-Pacific strategies themselves, such as India, the U.S., France, Japan, South Korea, Germany, ASEAN and the EU.

“China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses an epoch-defining and systemic challenge with implications for almost every area of government policy and the everyday lives of British people,” IR2023 says, and the government announced increased funding toward its China program.

“We cannot be blind to the increasingly aggressive military and economic behavior of the Chinese Communist Party, including stoking tensions across the Taiwan Strait and attempt to strong arm partners,” U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told MPs as he unveiled the strategy in the House of Commons.

However, the IR2023 emphasises dialogue. The U.K. will cooperate on a broader range of issues, building long-term ties, “without forcing zero-sum choices or encouraging bipolarity in the international system”. The strategy presents a Britain that is willing to work with other countries on the basis of “respect, reciprocity, the UN charter and international law”, including with “systemic competitors”. However, it says the U.K.’s closest working ties will be with democratic allies and partners, as it calls the U.S. its “most important” ally.

The IR2023 commits to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to include additional permanent members, saying the world order should reflect new realities.

The Prime Minister’s foreign affairs spokesperson called it “an evolution in the U.K.’s position”, citing the fact that the articulation of the policy was being placed before the British Parliament for the first time. Specifically, the strategy says it will support G4 countries (India, Japan, Germany and Brazil) as permanent UNSC members and also welcome permanent African representation on the UN body and at other multilateral forums, including the G20.

U.K. welcomes increasing depth of cooperation with India

“We’re going to keep developing the 2030 roadmap and working towards an FTA,” the spokesperson said with regard to priorities for the U.K.-India relationship, adding that the U.K. has welcomed the “ increasing depth” of cooperation between the two countries.

“Our High Commission [Alex Ellis], very firmly, is clear on delivering strength in our relationship with India as a core part of our of broader posture,” they said. The U.K. will also strengthen its defence and security partnership with India, progress technology collaboration and lead the maritime security pillar of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, government said. 

Protecting the BBC

The document says the U.K. will seek to maximise its soft power including via the BBC. World Service and the British Council. The BBC has been in the news both internationally, for its screening of a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and within the U.K., for seeking to control social media use by one of its star hosts, former footballer Gary Lineker.

The document says the government will work to “provide trusted sources of news” and invest GBP 20 million over two years to “protect” all 42 World Service language channels, support English language broadcasting and “counter disinformation”.

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