Boris Johnson's defence plans leave the threat from China 'unchecked' warns Conservative MP
Tobias Ellwood, chair of the UK’s defence committee, said the UK’s new foreign policy roadmap failed to address the growing threat of China.
‘China will be delighted that yet again they can continue exploiting our weak rules-based order,’ he said.
Ellwood also condemned Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s comments that Britain should trade with countries that violate human rights as “astonishing.”
Boris Johnson’s plans to forge a closer relationship with China fall “hugely” short in acknowledging the threat posed by Beijing, a senior member of his party has told Insider.
Johnson’s integrated defence review, published on Tuesday, called for a “positive trade and investment relationship” with China despite its multiple alleged human rights abuses.
However, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the UK parliament’s influential defence committee told Insider that he was disappointed by his own government’s position.
“The [UK’s] strategic ambiguity on China will continue to China’s benefit,” Ellwood told Insider.
“They will be delighted that yet again they can continue exploiting our weak rules-based order and that their actions go unchecked.”
Ellwood compared the failure to tackle the threat posed by China to that posed by the Nazis in the last century.
“There is certainly a 1930s feel to the world at the moment, with weak global institutions, economic recession, rising authoritarian powers that are militarising, and lack of westerly cohesion,” he told Insider.
Ellwood’s comments echo those of other Conservative MPs who are deeply critical of the government’s plan to deepen trade links with Beijing.
Julian Lewis, another Conservative MP, on Tuesday accused Boris Johnson of returning to the “grasping naivety of the Cameron-Osborne years,” when the government openly courted Chinese investment and hosted Chinese premier Xi Jinping.
The prime minister replied that the review offered a “clear-eyed” approach to UK-China relations and said the government needed to strike a “balance” because trade with China is worth £81 billion annually.
Johnson also said his government had previously condemned China over issues including the government’s persecution of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.
However, Ellwood suggested that the prime minister’s comments condemning China’s human rights abuses were meaningless without any action to back them up.
Dominic Raab’s human rights comments were ‘astonishing’
Ellwood also said comments made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who told colleagues in a recording leaked to HuffPost UK that Britain should trade with countries that violate human rights – were “astonishing.”
“I squarely believe we ought to be trading liberally around the world,” Raab said.
“If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future.”
Ellwood said the comments suggested the UK risked losing the “moral high ground.”
“Particularly when standards are being eroded [and] international rules are being flouted, it’s very difficult for us to retain the moral high ground if we’re willing to loosen our standards ourselves,” he told Insider.
The review also included measures to increase Britain’s stockpile of nuclear warheads by 40% to 260, identified Russia as “the most acute threat to our security,” and said Britain would “reserve the right” to launch nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack.
Ellwood called for a parliamentary debate or ministerial statement on the significant shift in the UK’s nuclear doctrine, which previously stated that only nuclear attacks would justify a nuclear response.
He said he was also concerned about the Ministry of Defence’s shift towards purchasing autonomous vehicles including drones and robots at the expense of conventional military hardware including tanks and frigates.
“We need to adapt to the changing character of conflict but simply because some new threats emerged does not mean old threats have disappeared,” he said.
“Russia are buzzing our skies and seas every single day. We are living in a period of constant competition.
“To see the numbers of tanks, troops, jets, typhoons, F35s, and frigates being cut from all three services will be a shocking depletion of our capability and will leave us exposed,” he said.
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