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Britain’s Integrated Review
Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. (Published by Cabinet Office)
Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. (Published by Cabinet Office)

Chilly in Springtime

It may be springtime in capitals in the Northern hemisphere, but it remains decidedly chilly when it comes to relations between the US, EU, UK, and China.  All three in their own way have ramped up the pressure on China in the past week.

The most prominent of course has been the meetings between Secretary of State Blinken and his Chinese counterpart Wang Jiechi in Anchorage Alaska.  While Alaska may be a full state of the Union the choice of location must have sent a clear message already to the Chinese delegation that this wasn’t old fashioned business as usual or a return to the Obama years.  Blinken, who had not shied away from calling the Chinese actions in Xinjiang genocide opened the meetings and greeted the Chinese delegation in polite but direct language.  He said the US side would discuss the “deep concerns with actions by China, including Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, and economic coercion towards our allies.”  Few could consider this offensive or undiplomatic, yet the Chinese delegation was seemingly caught off guard.  The opening 700 or so words from the US side prompted a 2,000+ word (in translation) response from the Chinese side.  The two sides had agreed to 2 minutes of opening remarks, but Xi Jinping’s bagmen could or would not hold to the script.  Had Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi really just expected platitudes and motherhood statements?  Hadn’t they noticed the world has changed?

This week started by China being sanctioned the EU.  After only a few weeks ago agreeing to the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment the EU has now been forced to act over the human rights violations in Xinjiang.  It imposed assets freezes and travel bans on 4 individuals and 1 company all associated with Xinjiang.  What it didn’t do was call the actions genocide, it has left that language to the Americans.  Nor has it been prepared to sanction Xinjiang Party boss Chen Quanguo who is the primary architect of the current abuses in Xinjiang.  This is without doubt a major failing on the part of the EU but this is the first time since Tiananmen Square that the EU has been prepared to sanction China at all.

It wasn’t easy for the EU to act in this way, there would have been significant horse trading behind the scenes to bring all 27 EU members on board.  Hungary for one has often played the China card to try and poke the eye of the EU leaders in Brussels but this time they have gone along with the whole group.  This long overdue EU move on China reflects what EU watcher Theresa Fallon has called the “end of illusion” for the EU when it comes to China.  The CAI announcement under Merkel’s EU presidency may have marked the high point of current EU and China engagement and the final CAI deal may indeed fail to be ratified by the parliament and member states.

The announcement comes the week Blinken is due in Europe to have meetings with EU and NATO allies to debrief and discuss his Asian tour and China meeting.  The EU is trying to walk a thin line balancing its own desire for an independent foreign policy and not being taken for granted by the new Biden administration and at the same time not wanting to anger China too much.  But the Chinese were of course angered and within hours China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs named 10 European parliamentarians and 4 associations which would be subject to reciprocal sanctions.

It is worth noting that the EU chose to announce the China sanctions as part of a broader sanctions’ announcement covering human rights violations in North Korea, Russia, Eritrea, South Sudan and Libya.  It would be nice to think that some in the leadership of the CCP are wondering how China finds itself lumped together with this group of countries.  China can and should do better than this but under Xi Jinping’s direction it is removing itself evermore from global norms.

The Integrated Review

Preceding both the US and the EU the UK laid down a marker of where it wants to be by the end of the coming decade.  Boris Johnson’s government published a 114-page report called Global Britain in a competitive age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.  Not a China strategy per se, although one is expected in the coming months, but a broad outline of Britain’s goals, thinking and plans for the coming decade as it looks to chart a course distinct from the EU.

What isn’t changing and what is explicitly stated as point 1 in Britain’s strategic framework is the importance of the United States as its most important bilateral relationship.  NATO and the Five Eyes (US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand) remain as Britain’s core global alliances.  That shouldn’t be any real surprise and while the EU will loom large in Britain simply by virtue of geography the increasingly bitter and petty disputes over vaccines has only increased distrust in the EU even among those who were against Brexit and hoped for a warm and close relationship with the bloc.

The report makes clear the shift towards a multipolar world: with the economic rise of Asia then with it comes more geopolitical shifts.  These columns have already discussed Britain’s application to join the CPTPP and this week Britain also indicated its desire to become involved in military exercises with the Quad states.  The Quad is a lose grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States, far from a formal alliance, and never likely to be, but a grouping of democracies who each in their own way are looking to cooperate in managing the rise of China.  The Integrated Review makes 32 mentions of the term Indo-Pacific, only beaten by mentions of Europe/European in terms of geographical location, and Britain sees the geopolitical future not just in East Asia and the ASEAN countries but embracing India and the Indian Ocean.  Chinese dependence on Middle Eastern hydrocarbons and India’s own economic rise and growing clout means that the Indian Ocean is now a central focus when it comes to global shipping and trade.

China is mentioned more times than any other country, a total of 26 times in the 114 pages.  Sections on China are scattered throughout the review but perhaps the clearest summary is as follows:

China as a systemic competitor. China’s increasing power and international assertiveness is likely to be the most significant geopolitical factor of the 2020s.  The scale and reach of China’s economy, size of its population, technological advancement and increasing ambition to project its influence on the global stage, for example through the Belt and Road Initiative, will have profound implications worldwide. Open, trading economies like the UK will need to engage with China and remain open to Chinese trade and investment, but they must also protect themselves against practices that have an adverse effect on prosperity and security. Cooperation with China will also be vital in tackling transnational challenges, particularly climate change and biodiversity loss.

p. 26 Integrated Review

This though is hardly provocative or in doubt.  Few would disagree with the summary above but what the Johnson government is lacking is a meaningful China strategy to engage with China now.  Expectations are high that a detailed strategy is coming but it’s not here yet.

On page 16 of the review under the section “on efforts to defend human rights and support vulnerable people” the very welcome stance on Hong Kong holders of BN(O) passports is highlighted as are measures to ensure than British organizations are not complicit nor profiting from the human rights violations in Xinjiang.  Like the EU, Boris Johnson’s government has shied away from using the word genocide.  Johnson’s government has also come under fire because the Hong Kong BN(O) seems indeed to be the only issue where Britain has taken a first, proactive stance against Chinese actions.  Yet a few hours after the EU announcement on sanctions the UK announced that they were matching the EU sanctions in a coordinate and planned approach.  This coordinated effort by the Johnson government came in for criticism for hiding behind the EU and for trying to deflect protest from the government’s own backbenchers who have repeated tried to amend a trade bill to have judicial oversight of whether genocide was being committed in Xinjiang.  But Johnson can be his own worst enemy, just last month when speaking to a group of Chinese businesses he described himself as “fervently Sinophile”.  What message does he think that sends both to a domestic and international audience with such ill-considered words?  Johnson and his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab both understand that the reality of today’s world, is that not all countries are going to meet the highest bar when it comes to human rights standards.  Raab correctly mentioned this in an interview, was partially quoted then lambasted for his alleged willingness to strike trade deals with China and other regimes which fail short of human rights goals.  But this is a reality of today’s world, a strategy where the only response to China is to have a total ban or no trade with the country is simply unworkable and allows for no calibration of response.

This though is hardly provocative or in doubt.  Few would disagree with the summary above but what the Johnson government is lacking is a meaningful China strategy to engage with China now.  Expectations are high that a detailed strategy is coming but it’s not here yet.

On page 16 of the review under the section “on efforts to defend human rights and support vulnerable people” the very welcome stance on Hong Kong holders of BN(O) passports is highlighted as are measures to ensure than British organizations are not complicit nor profiting from the human rights violations in Xinjiang.  Like the EU, Boris Johnson’s government has shied away from using the word genocide.  Johnson’s government has also come under fire because the Hong Kong BN(O) seems indeed to be the only issue where Britain has taken a first, proactive stance against Chinese actions.  Yet a few hours after the EU announcement on sanctions the UK announced that they were matching the EU sanctions in a coordinate and planned approach.  This coordinated effort by the Johnson government came in for criticism for hiding behind the EU and for trying to deflect protest from the government’s own backbenchers who have repeated tried to amend a trade bill to have judicial oversight of whether genocide was being committed in Xinjiang.  But Johnson can be his own worst enemy, just last month when speaking to a group of Chinese businesses he described himself as “fervently Sinophile”.  What message does he think that sends both to a domestic and international audience with such ill-considered words?  Johnson and his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab both understand that the reality of today’s world, is that not all countries are going to meet the highest bar when it comes to human rights standards.  Raab correctly mentioned this in an interview, was partially quoted then lambasted for his alleged willingness to strike trade deals with China and other regimes which fail short of human rights goals.  But this is a reality of today’s world, a strategy where the only response to China is to have a total ban or no trade with the country is simply unworkable and allows for no calibration of response.

A united front?

By the end of Monday in Europe it transpired that both the US and Canada had joined with the EU and UK in a 4 way coordinated response to China.  That is a complete reversal of the past moves by Trump and could well mark the start of more coordinated action in the future.  It is still too early to say although the end of illusion certainly seems to speak clearly to the EU position.  The contradicting realities of China have come to the fore and each country is trying to find a suitable policy response which can be ratcheted up or down as conditions demand.

Secretary Blinken’s is saying many of the right things regarding America’s return to the world stage, but it can’t be forgotten than Trump secured more votes in the last election than any other president except Biden.  Trump wasn’t a short-term flash in the pan, he reflected a significant section of American society and the Republican Party who simply have a very different world view and view of America than the one which Biden and Blinken present.  The US may be back in Blinken’s words but is it here to stay and be dependable?  The China challenges aren’t just short term single term types of issues, there are long term geostrategic changes which are happening and for middle powers like the UK or Australia working with and depending on US mutual support is key.

The EU too are struggling to find the right response to China.  A growing body of lawmakers are venting their anger that EU policy to China seems to be determined in the boardrooms of German exporters rather than parliamentarians backed by the common good and values which have underpinned much of the European political discourse.

For the UK finding a role in the coming decades is exactly what the review is trying to do.  Broad outlines have been drawn and they largely make sense in identifying the challenges, threats and opportunities ahead.  What is still to come is a China strategy, how should the UK engage with China in trade and investment, in education and research, in climate change and environmental issues?  There literally isn’t a topic of global concern which doesn’t involved China.

For those at the top of the Party and around Xi Jinping it must have been a grueling week.  No doubt the echo chamber at the top levels of the Party insulates some from reflecting on the global pushback.  Let’s hope that Xi Jinping having crushed discussion and dissent within much of society has allowed room for debate within the top levels of the Party.  If not then China is going to be subject to more grueling weeks in the future.

フレイザー・ハウイー
フレイザー・ハウイー(Howie, Fraser)|アナリスト。ケンブリッジ大学で物理を専攻し、北京語言文化大学で中国語を学んだのち、20年以上にわたりアジア株を中心に取引と分析、執筆活動を行う。この間、香港、北京、シンガポールでベアリングス銀行、バンカース・トラスト、モルガン・スタンレー、中国国際金融(CICC)に勤務。2003年から2012年まではフランス系証券会社のCLSAアジア・パシフィック・マーケッツ(シンガポール)で上場派生商品と疑似ストックオプション担当の代表取締役を務めた。「エコノミスト」誌2011年ブック・オブ・ザ・イヤーを受賞し、ブルームバーグのビジネス書トップ10に選ばれた“Red Capitalism : The Fragile Financial Foundations of China's Extraordinary Rise”(赤い資本主義:中国の並外れた成長と脆弱な金融基盤)をはじめ、3冊の共著書がある。「ウォール・ストリート・ジャーナル」、「フォーリン・ポリシー」、「チャイナ・エコノミック・クォータリー」、「日経アジアレビュー」に定期的に寄稿するほか、CNBC、ブルームバーグ、BBCにコメンテーターとして頻繫に登場している。 // Fraser Howie is co-author of three books on the Chinese financial system, Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundations of China’s Extraordinary Rise (named a Book of the Year 2011 by The Economist magazine and one of the top ten business books of the year by Bloomberg), Privatizing China: Inside China’s Stock Markets and “To Get Rich is Glorious” China’s Stock Market in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He studied Natural Sciences (Physics) at Cambridge University and Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University and for over twenty years has been trading, analyzing and writing about Asian stock markets. During that time he has worked in Hong Kong Beijing and Singapore. He has worked for Baring Securities, Bankers Trust, Morgan Stanley, CICC and from 2003 to 2012 he worked at CLSA as a Managing Director in the Listed Derivatives and Synthetic Equity department. His work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, China Economic Quarterly and the Nikkei Asian Review, and is a regular commentator on CNBC, Bloomberg and the BBC.