The Indian-origin British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the commitment of an additional $6 billion to the UK’s existing military expenditure. This signals towards an increase in the British threat perception regarding China. In the words of the Prime Minister himself, China poses an “epoch-defining systemic challenge” to the UK and its allies. The recent AUKUS deal, under which Australia is to receive technical nuclear assistance, especially in the domain of nuclear submarines, marked the beginning of a new policy undertaken by the British government which perceives China as a core threat to the Western dominance of the so-called existing World Order.
China has emerged in the past three decades as a power to be reckoned with, especially in the economic arena. Deng Xiaoping’s policies of the gradual opening of Chinese markets to the world sowed the seeds of Chinese economic predominance in the region and turned China into the largest producer in the world. With its renewed glory, China now seems to be expanding its influence on the realms of diplomacy and security. Last week, it brokered a deal between arch Middle Eastern Iran and Saudi Arabia, in what was considered a shocking development for the world, and signifies the increased diplomatic role of China around the world. It also signals to the fact that contrary to other powers that be, China holds not just the capability but also the will to act on regional and global imperatives.
This is an imposing circumstance for China’s competitors. India, which shares a long non-porous border with it, seems to be threatened the most. India’s inclusion in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and its frequent joint naval exercises with the US and other allies project this threat perception of China. These alliances and military exercises are aimed at signaling a strong message to China of the possibility of a head on collision if China refuses to cease expanding its sphere of influence. The minimum, India and its allies would attempt to do is to cut off China’s sea lines of communications which are disproportionately dependent on the South China Sea and Indian Ocean routes. It is therefore a well-established thesis that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would serve as a bypass and an alternative route for China’s expanding trade volume, making it less vulnerable to any naval blockades it may have to suffer in the future.
India, under superpower tutelage and the discriminatory support of international organizations, has been able to amass considerable diplomatic influence. One of India’s mainstay diplomatic tools is its diaspora which is spread across the globe. The Indian diaspora occupies crucial spaces in the political and business community globally. From CEOs of tech giants to Prime Ministers and other influential political positions, these individuals of Indian origins possess a subtle yet deep connection with their origin – and they cannot help but take decisions, which may ultimately advance the greater Indian designs globally.
Such is the case of the British Prime Minister’s decision to ramp up British military expenditures while keeping China in focus as the core of the issues. Yet China’s advancement needs not be taken as a threat by other major powers, least by the United Kingdom Additionally, Britain’s traditional policy making has been based on liberal values – Rishi Sunak’s recent decision and outlook tends to threaten the whole basis of British political culture. On the other hand, China has historically remained content with what it had and it has never launched conflicts for expansion, conquest and annexation of foreign lands. China’s supremacy, both historically and contemporary, has been economic – it would prefer subduing its rivals through trade rather than using sheer force to overcome. Thus, the British threat perception of China and its assumption that an increase in the military spending and enhancing its nuclear deterrent will help in containing China vis a vis the UK is based less on pragmatism and more on emotions and sentiments.
There exists a mutual threat perception between China on the one hand and the Indo-Western alliance on the other hand. With a similar population composition, India aspires to compete with China and spares no chance to contain it. It is a competition of attaining regional dominance and hegemony. India alone cannot counter China by any means; thus the recent British announcement must have been received with great joy in Indian power corridors.
The UK’s recent measure may only help Indian designs to contain China and constrict its mobility. It may drag the UK into a direct conflict with China which would only serve the national security interest of India in the long run and would prove detrimental to Britain’s foreign policy. The UK’s apprehensions about China, as mentioned earlier, are pragmatically unfounded. Notwithstanding that, China has become too powerful to be countered or deterred effectively by military means. If the current projections sustain, China is likely to surpass the US as the strongest economy by the mid-2030s.
It would be wise, in the longer run, if the UK establishes cordial terms with China rather than pitting itself deeper into arm flexing. Failing to do so will only prove detrimental to the overall British foreign relations and ultimately benefit a third-party state.
The writer is currently working as an Assistant Research Fellow at Balochistan Think Tank Network
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