30 Aug 23. Foreign Affairs Committee Reviews Government’s Tilt to the Indo-Pacific. Today (Wednesday 30 August) the Foreign Affairs Committee publishes its report: “Tilting horizons: the Integrated Review and the Indo-Pacific”.
The report welcomes the Government’s focus on the Indo-Pacific, as the global geopolitical and economic centre of gravity is moving eastward. At the same time, it warns that this policy shift should not be at the expense of regions like the Middle East to which the UK has long-standing commitments and responsibilities.
The report is critical of the Government’s inability to set out clearly the long-term objectives and desired outcomes of the Tilt, either in the form of a written strategy, or before the Committee. This risks failing to meaningfully deter the threats to UK sovereignty from a more aggressive People’s Republic of China (PRC), and hinders the ability of the UK to take full advantage of the opportunities of greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific. The report reviews the risks and opportunities emanating across the breadth of the Indo-Pacific and its relevance to the UK.
The Committee recognises “the activities of the Chinese Communist Party as a threat to the UK and its interests” and that “the behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party is currently characterised by increased aggression towards the UK.”
Publishing unclassified China Strategy
The report is critical of the Government’s lack of coherence in its approach to China but goes further than the Intelligence and Security Committee, calling for Government to publish an unclassified version of its China Strategy. In addition, the Committee calls for sector-specific guidance for industries of critical national importance and more of a focus on supply chain resilience, risk of technological dependence and of data exfiltration.
The Committee concludes that there appears to be “confusion across Whitehall about the Tilt to the Indo-Pacific, stemming from a failure to explain the policy” and urges that all relevant Ministers are briefed on the higher classification version of the China Strategy.
The report urges the Government to announce a clear policy of zero tolerance of transnational repression. The Government must be prepared to expel foreign diplomats who engage in intimidation of, or physical attacks on, British Citizens or those who seek refuge on UK shores, says the Committee.
The Committee calls for the Government to recognise that the repeated attacks on Hong Kong dissidents are part of a wider Chinese Communist Party policy of repression. The report calls for the UK to proactively communicate the unacceptability of such a policy directly with representatives of the Chinese government and pursue solutions in international fora.
Protecting Taiwan’s right to self-determination and investing in semiconductors
The Committee also calls for the UK to develop deterrence diplomacy – building up resilience and defence in order to deter malicious actors – and to use this to protect the self-determination of the people of Taiwan. The UK should engage with Taiwan to secure inward investment in the semiconductor and wind industries in the UK. The Committee calls on the Government to build an alternative supply source for advanced semiconductors and wind energy components, whether this involves onshoring or friendshoring.
Expand AUKUS and the Quad
The report calls for the Government to propose to Australia and the United States that Japan and South Korea be invited to join an AUKUS technological defence cooperation agreement, focused on Strand B activities only. The UK should seek to join the Quad.
Further develop economic and people-to-people ties with Indo-Pacific countries
The report argues that the UK needs to build on its existing economic and people-to-people relationships with Indo-Pacific countries. It says that the Government should maintain the pace of negotiations on the India-UK Free Trade Agreement and agree on a digital partnership with the Republic of Korea. It should expand cooperation with Taiwan and Japan on the teaching of English in those countries and expand the teaching of Chinese and Japanese in the UK. The UK should welcome more students from India and expand scientific and technological cooperation with India. The report also calls for the creation of a Diplomatic Academy in the Indo-Pacific region to build capacity in foreign policy formulation and diplomatic representation in partner governments, and help governments build resilience against hostile overtures.
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, said: “Today’s report is a thorough assessment of the UK’s policy on the Indo-Pacific; the result of two years of evidence gathering and research. The Indo-Pacific is a vast and varied geopolitical region, home to over half of the world’s population and set to continue to grow as a major economic powerhouse. The era of the Indo-Pacific is here. In any conversation about the Indo-Pacific, China looms large. China’s global ambitions and desire to rival the reach and influence of the West were made clear at the recent BRICS summit, but the writing has been on the wall for years. It’s only by shoring up our networks in the Indo-Pacific that we can temper China’s economic and political expansionism, offering a viable, democratic alternative to Indo-Pacific states. “For many years, the Foreign Affairs Committee has advocated the need to balance economic cooperation with caution in the UK’s dealings with China. Recent Foreign Office announcements indicate that Ministers are listening to the Committee. However, there is still too much unsaid. The confidential, elusive China strategy is buried deep in Whitehall, kept hidden even from senior Ministers across Government. How can those implementing policy – and making laws – do so without an understanding of the overall strategy? The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report highlighted the incoherence in the Government’s approach to China. Our report goes even further and calls for Government to publish an unclassified China strategy.
“Strengthening our diplomatic, defensive and economic ties in the Indo-Pacific is critical – if the West leaves a vacuum, China will eagerly fill it.
“Resilience and deterrence must be at the core of our foreign policy. Concentrations of power can easily end up in the wrong hands. Diversifying our supply chains, particularly our supply of semiconductors, will protect us in the long term.
“Taiwan is an important ally and partner of the UK. The Government should stand shoulder to shoulder with Taiwan, making clear that attempts to undermine Taiwanese self-determination are unacceptable.”