I find it surprising that his trip doesn’t get more publicity. Some, of course, don’t like it. The Chinese government today warned, “Action should never attempt to destabilize regional peace… The Chinese navy will take all necessary measures to countermeasure such behavior. Beijing is particularly upset by “the latest military collaboration between the United Kingdom and Japan”. We may need to “counter-measure” Chinese behavior if the regime attempts to conjure up a maritime “incident” to make Britain appear weak, aggressive, or (worse) both.
Some in the West are not satisfied either. On Tuesday, under the headline “Britain ‘more useful’ closer to home than in Asia, says US defense chief,” the Financial Times reported that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had used a speech in Singapore to highlight “US concerns that European allied incursions into the Indo-Pacific could weaken defenses closer to home.” It sounded pretty serious.
However, James Crabtree – himself a former FT correspondent – chaired the event at which Mr Austin spoke. Worried about how his old newspaper covered the story, he tweeted that it was “hard to see Austin’s remarks genuinely aimed at questioning the UK’s role in Asia.” He quoted the exact words of Mr Austin, who described the interoperability between the UK and the US in Asia as “a really exciting undertaking”. In a sentence Boris Johnson himself could have used, Mr Austin had said that “the UK and the US are global nations with global interests”. After Mr. Crabtree’s protest, the FT changed their account.
The psychological problems of the Financial Times shouldn’t hold us back too long. For 20 years before Brexit, its columnists repeatedly shouted: “The future is Asia!” But after Boris implemented the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, they attacked his foreign policy with blind fury. “World Great Britain? Pah! Is the line of the FT. No independent defense, foreign and security policy can ever be fair, the newspaper thinks rosyly: we must either re-enter the EU or pretend we never left. Boris, however, decided the FT columnists were right on the first try. Asia is the future, so it is very important that it is dominated by our friends, not our enemies.
Throughout the history of the transporter, which began as a nod at the turn of the 20th century, reasonable objections have been made. Is this the right way to spend the little British defense money? Is she too vulnerable? Will his kit actually work? What is the use of such a vessel in the face of 21st century technology?
These questions were never fully answered, but now that we have the aircraft carrier, it’s interesting to see it deployed with some strategic daring. In March, the government released its Integrated Defense and Security Review, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age,” the first such document to address the real security challenges of the present. He was attempting, among other things, to reverse the Cameron-Osborne “golden era” illusion that Chinese money could be allowed to flow into Britain without political or security consequences. He had to chart a new course.
In May, HMS Queen Elizabeth set sail on her maiden voyage, heading east. Its “perspective” helps to strengthen the will of ministers. As a senior military official put it: “She crossed the Straits of Malacca with every ministry much better aligned than when she left Portsmouth two months ago. Even the Foreign Ministry, always so cautious about anything that might upset China, has become firmer on the human rights dimension of the story. By paying more attention to the suffering of Uyghurs and democracy in Hong Kong, he has awakened some dormant consciences, including, perhaps, his own.
The purpose of the Carrier Strike Group trip is of course not to subjugate the Middle Empire or threaten to attack China or even to make provocative gestures like Vladimir Putin likes to do towards Britain by encroaching on the waters. territorial.
It is setting a milestone, expanding possibilities and strengthening alliances. “Confident, not confrontational” is the government’s slogan. There is power in democratic countries when they act in unison and terrible weakness – which China would like to exploit – when they don’t. Indeed, China’s huge and massive global Belt and Road initiative, now in its ninth year, can be seen as a comprehensive attempt to divide and rule. Late, the Western allies retreat.
The Integrated Review declared, for the first time in such a document, that China presents “a systemic challenge … to our security, prosperity and values - and those of our allies and partners.” The Indo-Pacific Carrier Strike Group visit makes visible our resistance to this challenge in steel. HMS Queen Elizabeth will visit 40 countries and make a strong impression. When she docks in Tokyo, it will be a sight to think about. The commander of the US Seventh Fleet will also come on board.
The existing alliances are galvanizing. Four members of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance – the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – are Pacific nations. The fifth is us. The Five-Power Defense Agreements, which turn 50 this year, are between four Eastern Powers – Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore – and Britain. All five are Commonwealth countries.
There is a similar direction in the bilateral negotiations: our greatest current contribution is in relations with India, the emerging great power which has been put to the test by China. During its voyage, the carrier strike group conducted naval exercises with India in the Bay of Bengal. Our interest in the Indo-Pacific region is hardly a cranky, new, post-Brexit debate. It has been around for a long time. No one wants to use the old imperial phrase “East of Suez”, but that’s where a lot of the action takes place.
It is moreover not true – despite the fears that the Financial Times wrongly attributes to the American Secretary of Defense – that the British “tilt” on the Indo-Pacific makes us neglect our own continent. Britain is the “framework nation” linking the Scandinavian and Baltic states – two of which, Sweden and Finland, are not part of NATO – into a joint expeditionary force designed to protect against Russia. This development appeals to Americans. Overall, we now spend 2.3 percent of GDP on defense, well above the threshold agreed by NATO.
It would be very premature to assert that the Government now has a coherent and fully operational defense and security strategy. The interests of commerce and the city continue to clash with security imperatives. Earlier this month, Nexperia purchased Newport Wafer Fab, a semiconductor plant. The security issue was not raised in advance, but the Newport plant is exactly the kind of “targeted investment” China needs for its global cyber domination plans. Now the national security adviser has been asked to take a closer look. There will be more such conflicts.
Even at the top, we still detect ambiguity. Boris Johnson never seems happy to criticize China, preferring to stress how much his trade matters to us. But facts on the ground – and at sea and in the air – suggest his government is finally putting long-term security above short-term gains.