The U.S.-China rivalry, already a growing concern of world leaders, policymakers, pundits and economic elites, is set to further intensify as a U.S. election year approaches .
The UK's strategy for the Indo-Pacific region is based on its alliance with the United States. This was made official in September 2021 with the announcement of Aukus, a military alliance with the United States and Australia. Yet its core interests in security, economics, diplomacy and human rights appear more closely linked to those of Brussels than to those of Washington.
The imperative to coordinate, even align, with Europe will become even stronger if Donald Trump returns to the US presidency in 2024. Trump's blustering campaigns, social media-driven China policy and skepticism at America's alliances are the worst of all worlds for allies such as the UK, increasing the risks of both abandonment and entrapment.
Faced with growing uncertainty from Washington, the UK and Europe may need to come together to protect their interests in the world's most economically dynamic region.
After leaving the EU, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a Indo-Pacific tilt which has expanded the UK's engagement in the region, for example, through the sending of a British Carrier Strike Group to Japan in 2021.
Ironically, the British are moving away from the European bloc and toward Indo-Pacific calls for greater policy coordination with Europe.
One area where such coordination is needed is maritime security in the contested waters of the South China Sea. European states are natural naval partners of the United Kingdom in asserting the rules of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which the United States has not ratified, against the Republic's encroachments people of China such as artificial encroachments. island building And environmental destruction.
Recent passages of French, German and Dutch ships through the South China Sea have generally not triggered public displays of anger by the PRC party-state. For Britain, this suggests that partnering with smaller European navies to counterbalance China's growing naval power would carry less risk of retaliation or escalation from Beijing than sailing with the US navy.
The UK could use the opportunity to encourage European navies to do more in the area of maritime security. This could start with increased ship shipments, port visits, cooperative exchanges with regional navies and freedom of shipping operations. When carried out by countries other than the United States, these patrols emphasize that the provisions of Unclos are rules of principle rather than policy tools.
When it comes to global trade in general, the UK and the US are moving in opposite directions. He's staying little sign of the promised free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. In its absence, Britain is putting trade at the center of its Indo-Pacific focus, joining the region's most ambitious free trade deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Opening up greater trade in the Indo-Pacific region carries real risks. White room is rightly concerned on the security of internationalized supply chains. Meanwhile, Western countries are offshoring production by moving their supply networks to allies and friends. Sheer geographical proximity means that Europe is likely to play a central role in any plan to ensure the resilience of UK supply chains, while expanding trade links across the Indo-Pacific region.
Then there is economic coercion, which Xi Jinping’s PRC is increasingly deploying against a country. wide range of targets, from Japan to Lithuania, due to political conflicts. Here again, the UK can do more with Europe.
Last year the EU legislated anti-coercion instrument designed to enable rapid and coordinated response and assistance when Member States are targeted by economic coercion. The UK should seek to join or at least align with the EU's approach to economic coercion.
Given the UK's considerable economic size, it would be in the EU's interest to work with Britain on the development and implementation of this project.
Last years Integrated Review Update, the latest update of the UK's foreign policy priorities, describes climate change and biodiversity loss as existential threats. And he urged the United Kingdom to fight against human rights violations in China by aligning with the UK's allies and partners.
A second Trump administration is unlikely to be a reliable partner on these issues, nor on the threat of China using force against democratic, self-governing Taiwan. Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accords in 2017 and rented Xi's policy of mass internment of ethnic Uyghurs. He also recently denied to say whether he would help Taiwan if the PRC attacked, responding instead with attacks on Taiwan's chip industry for taking our business.
While part of the EU, British diplomats were renowned for being effective contributors to the EU diplomatic service. The UK will need to build on this experience if it wants to see progress on the threat of climate change and human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.
A victory for Europe
The UK has struggled to come up with a coherent definition of its relationship with China and a strategy articulating what it wants from the relationship. The European Councils description The EU-China relationship – partner on global challenges, competitor on technology, rival on governance – has provided a stable framework since 2019.
There is also a victory for Europe in all this. For its part, the EU wants Beijing to recognize it as a geopolitical power a third pole in world affairs distinct from the United States.
Developing maritime security, supply chain resilience, counter-coercion, human rights and other diplomatic engagements with the UK, and even facilitating its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, would offer in Brussels a way to show that it is a serious player in the region.
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