China is “here to stay”, the Foreign Secretary has said as he defended the Government’s foreign policy shift towards the Indo-Pacific.
Dominic Raab said Britain would not “hark back” to the frosty relations of the Cold War and would instead look for “constructive engagement” with China.
The Cabinet minister’s comments came after the publication of the Government’s Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy which sets out plans for a change in focus towards the Indo-Pacific region in response to the rise of China.
In a speech to the US Aspen Security Forum, Mr Raab said Britain wanted to “tilt towards the growth opportunities of the future” in the region.
Questioned afterwards about why the UK was pressing for closer links with China in a move that looked out of step with President Joe Biden’s administration, the Foreign Secretary said: “I think the way we look at it is this: China is here to stay.
“We don’t believe we are harking back to an old Cold War mentality or paradigm.
“There are positives and we ought to look for the areas of constructive engagement – obviously in business and trade. Everyone is more or less doing trade with China.
“There are other areas: we are hosting Cop26, as I’ve mentioned, and we’re not going to shift the dialogue on climate change unless we can engage in some form of co-operation with China.
“At the same time we’re absolutely resolute about standing up robustly and vigorously where British interests are affected, whether it is intellectual property or critical national infrastructure, and standing up for our values.
“I think you’ve seen that with the lead we’ve taken on Hong Kong and also diplomatically on Xinjiang (where Uighur Muslims are allegedly being persecuted).”
Mr Raab did confirm that the coronavirus pandemic had highlighted the need for Britain to “change the way we do business” and its reliance on mass-produced Chinese goods.
“One of the things the pandemic showed up very clearly is the weaknesses of our supply chain model, as every country around the world queued up for PPE (personal protective equipment) and other vital goods from China and a small number of other mass-producing countries,” he said.
The UK will instead work to develop “new partnerships with existing allies”, naming the likes of Estonia, India and South Korea, to “shore up our economic resilience”, he said.
Mr Raab also defended the Integrated Review’s decision to upscale the number of nuclear warheads the UK can stockpile, a move that marked a reversal of long-held domestic intent to reduce nuclear arms.
The Government had previously committed to decreasing the level to a maximum of 180 by the middle of the decade, but now the stockpile could be increased up to 260.
Asked why Britain had taken the decision, Mr Raab said: “Given our stocks and given the diversifying threat we face, I think undoubtedly we are making sure we can maintain the minimum credible deterrent.
“And I think it is important. We want to see a nuclear-free world but I don’t think it is going to happen by unilaterally giving up the ultimate insurance policy we need and, with respect, that the US needs.”
In pre-briefed comments, the Foreign Secretary used his virtual speech to warn that democracy was “in retreat” across the globe.
He said “tyranny” would be “richer than freedom”, with the “combined GDP of autocratic regimes” expected to exceed that of the world’s democracies put together within the current decade.