Government lacks clear strategy on UK-China trade and security relationship
10 September 2021
The International Relations and Defence Committee publishes its report, The UK and China's security and trade relationship: A strategic void.
- Report: The UK and China's security and trade relationship: A strategic void (HTML)
- Report: The UK and China's security and trade relationship: A strategic void (PDF)
- Inquiry: The UK’s security and trade relationship with China
- International Relations and Defence Committee
Background and main findings
The report is published amidst growing tensions between the UK and China. The Committee urges the Government to publish a clear and consistent written strategy setting out its trade and security relationship with China. It regrets the current ambiguity of the Government’s approach to China and concludes that a coherent strategy is essential to show how the Government intends to balance its ambition for increased economic engagement with China with the need to protect the UK’s wider interests and values, including security issues, human rights, and labour protection.
Commenting on the report, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Chair of the Committee, said:
“In an atmosphere of growing tensions between the UK and China, the distinct lack of any clear position from the Government on China has become increasingly concerning. Throughout this inquiry we heard evidence of a “have its cake and eat it” approach in the Government’s relationship with China and the evidence we heard from Ministers did nothing to convince us this was not the case.
“Previous Parliamentary calls for the Government to produce a China strategy have so far been ignored. Although the Government maintains that it has made its approach to China clear in public statements and in the Integrated Review, we do not consider these vague statements, and those made to us during this inquiry, as constituting a strategy.
“We therefore repeat the call and urge the Government to produce a single, coherent China strategy and a plan for how it will execute that strategy. The strategy should seek to resolve the ambiguities in the current Government's China policy and balance economic relations and trade concerns with upholding values including human rights and labour protection, both of which must take centre stage in formulating the strategy. The Government must heed our call and follow the recommendations made in this report to formulate the priorities and focus for a definitive China strategy, and rectify the current void created by its absence.”
Key conclusions and recommendations
- The Government told us that it has made its approach to China clear in public statements and in the Integrated Review, but these statements, and those made to us during this inquiry, have been vague and do not constitute a strategy. We call on the Government to produce a single, coherent China strategy … and a plan for how it will execute that strategy. The strategy should seek to resolve the ambiguities in the current Government’s China policy.
- Taiwan will be a crucial issue for the US and its allies, including the UK. Even if a military confrontation would be risky for China and perhaps not in its interests … the prospect of miscalculation is always present …. An assessment of risk should consider both the probability and likely consequences of conflict in Taiwan; in this case the UK’s security relationship with the US, its global economic position and the Government’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region mean that its interests would be directly threatened.
- Establishment of effective and reliable partnerships is critical if the UK and its allies are to respond to the challenges posed by China. These partnerships can take different forms … but they will need to represent sufficient aggregate political, economic, and scientific power to be able to counter that of China, and to persuade uncommitted nations to align with these groupings.
- The challenge of climate change cannot be addressed without engagement with China. We call on the Government to explain how it will include considered co-operation with China on climate change as part of its China strategy. This is particularly important given the UK’s leadership role at COP26.
- Official Development Assistance is a vital aspect of the UK’s soft power, which can be used to address both traditional and non-traditional security challenges. As the UK seeks further engagement in the Indo-Pacific, Official Development Assistance cuts may create a void which may be exploited by China and the UK’s other competitors. We urge the Government to restore Official Development Assistance to 0.7% GNI before significant damage is done to the UK’s capabilities in this region and more widely
- The issue of how the Government intends to balance economic relations trade concerns with upholding values such as human rights and labour protection should be front and centre of its new China strategy. More generally, the Government should incorporate an atrocity prevention lens in its overall approach to trade. Current atrocity prevention tools and strategies have fallen short, so we ask that the Government outlines how it intends to strengthen them, including the effective use of sanctions.