LONDON — China will pose an “epoch-defining challenge” to Britain in the future, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says in new guidance for his government’s defense strategy, released March 13.
The integrated defense, security and foreign policy review document sharpen’s the British government’s position on its policy toward China, having previously described Beijing as only presenting a systemic challenge to the UK.
“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, weaponization of energy and food supplies and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, combined with China’s more aggressive stance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are threatening to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division – and an international order more favorable to authoritarianism,” Sunak wrote in a foreword to the review.
Sunak was in San Diego as the review was published for a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The three Western leaders were in the Californian city announcing the latest moves towards building a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy as part of the AUKUS pact to counter growing Chinese military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.
“China poses an epoch-defining challenge to the type of international order we want to see, both in terms of security and values – and so our approach must evolve,” Sunak said.
“We will work with our partners to engage with Beijing on issues such as climate change,” the document adds. “But where there are attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to coerce or create dependencies, we will work closely with others to push back against them.”
The 2023 review is a refresh, but not a wholesale redirection, of the earlier 2021 policy overhaul issued by the government of the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The earlier review was immediately followed by a Ministry of Defence review setting out capabilities and equipment priorities for the armed forces.
A similar review, known as a command paper, is scheduled again but not until later this year when new equipment and manpower priorities will be laid out.
One of the key elements of the 2021 document was a tilt in British defense and industrial policy towards the Asia-Pacific region.
The first phase of that has largely been done with AUKUS, the partnership with Japan to build a 6th-generation combat jet and several other relationships across the region already in place.
The review also said the British plan to strengthen ties with neighbors sharing a stake in Asia-Pacific, including France.
The U.K.-French summit earlier this month opted to boost cooperation in the region including by establishing the basis of a permanent European maritime presence in the area through coordinated aircraft carrier deployments.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.