China presents an “epoch-defining challenge” to the UK and its allies, Rishi Sunak has warned as the Government unveils a more aggressive stance towards the superpower as part of an overhaul of foreign policy.
The Prime Minister will on Monday publish an update of the integrated review, a document first released in 2021 which lays out the UK’s policy on foreign affairs, defence and development.
It will include a new public role for the spy agency MI5 for the first time, with businesses able to consult intelligence experts on how to keep themselves safe from hostile powers.
The centrepiece of the strategy is a tougher policy on China – but one which falls short of the demand by some Conservative MPs to classify the country as a “threat” to the UK’s interests, as opposed to a “challenge”.
The Government will double the funding for its “China capabilities” programme, which includes language teaching and diplomatic expertise. It will also update the national “critical minerals strategy” which aims to secure long-term supplies of crucial tech components such as lithium.
Speaking on his journey to San Diego, California where he will announce the results of the strategic update, the Prime Minister said: “China represents a country that has very different values to ours. I think it presents an epoch-defining challenge to us and to the global order. It’s a regime that is increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad and has a desire to reshape the world order.”
Asked why he had declined to call China a “threat”, Mr Sunak replied: “We’ve recognised it as the biggest state-based threat to our economic security, and what I would say is, I don’t think it’s smart or sophisticated foreign policy to reduce our relationship with China – which after all is a country with one and a half billion people, second biggest economy, and member of the UN Security Council – to just two words, and that’s why in the IR you will see a very thoughtful and detailed approach to China.”
The original integrated review, drawn up by foreign policy expert John Bew when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister, proposed an “Indo-Pacific tilt” for the UK.
Mr Bew was commissioned to revise the strategy in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
MI5 is to set up a new National Protective Security Agency which will allow businesses and other organisations to seek advice on security, similar to the role the National Cyber Security Centre plays within GCHQ.
The Government has also boosted funding for the BBC World Service by £20m in an attempt to ensure it does not need to shut down its operations in any of the 47 languages in which it broadcasts.
The former Conservative party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith hit out at the failure to reclassify China as a “threat”, as Liz Truss had promised to do. He said: “By being weak in facing China, China doesn’t respect us. If we don’t show strength they won’t respect us. Project Kowtow is alive and well.”