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This is Money – Daily Mail, Matt Oliver, 15 February, 2019

‘John Hemmings, an Asia expert at the Henry Jackson Society, pointed to a US decision to block Ant Financial’s takeover of payments firm Moneygram last year, saying: ‘It is certainly a deal that deserves to be closely reviewed’

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Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli, 11 February, 2019

Report authors James Rogers and Dr John Hemmings, said: “In the South China Sea, the People’s Republic of China is seeking to revise the Law of the Sea by asserting a number of unlawful and excessive claims over various international waters and low-tide elevations.

This is important because the UK, a maritime trading power, relies on maritime communication lines, which in turn depend on the cohesion of the rules-based international system.

“Maintaining a persistent naval presence in the Indo-Pacific – not least the South China Sea – comes at a cost.”


Daily Express, Harvey Gavin, 9 February, 2019

But despite the risks, the HJS report says the UK should project its power into the South China Sea and uphold the law of the sea by carrying out its own freedom of navigation exercises in conjunction with allies.

The authors conclude: “The South China Sea may seem like a distant geopolitical theatre to the UK and therefore largely peripheral to core British national interests.

“However, nothing could be further from the truth: aside from its economic significance to British trade, which is considerable and growing, it marks a sort of litmus test for the durability of the rules-based system.”


Charting Britain’s Moves in the South China Sea

hms_albion

RUSI Commentary, 6 February, 2019

A British naval presence in the South China Sea strengthens global security and Britain’s global role. But it must be matched with a more systematic approach to the region, and to China’s defiance of legal norms.

Last summer, the HMS Albion, an amphibious assault ship colloquially described as one of the Royal Navy’s ‘Swiss Army knives’, undertook what is widely believed to have been a freedom of navigation manoeuvre near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, the British government has shown that it is committed to upholding the rules-based order and asserting its market access rights in Southeast Asia. This was commendable for two different reasons: it projects a Britain that is willing to take the diplomatic and economic risk in the name of upholding maritime rights that benefit many smaller and medium-sized states in the region; and it shows that despite the Brexit process and contrary to the established narrative in the media, British foreign policy elites still view themselves as having something to contribute to the global system.

Yet however commendable HMS Albion’s transit in the South China Sea may be, it raises the question of what is next? How does ‘Global Britain’ – an avowed objective of the government – follow up on this naval transit in a meaningful and sustainable manner? Also, how does it avoid coming into conflict with China, which has begun to push back on US freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in a way that raises concerns about a possible miscalculation or naval incident at sea? In short, how does the UK avoid a situation in which an incident causes the loss of life of even just a single British sailor, leading to broader political questions about Britain’s role in ‘meddling’ in the affairs of ‘far-off peoples’, about whom allegedly it knows little?

A recent Henry Jackson Society report sought to answer these questions with a number of policy recommendations, which might alleviate or soften the risks, while searching for ways to adequately resource and sustain operations far from British shores. The report proposed, for example, that the Royal Naval vessels might carry out two different types of freedom of navigation manoeuvres to defend British access to the seas: jurisdictional; and territorial. In the first instance, the Royal Navy might challenge the excessive jurisdictional powers that China has claimed for itself, such as Beijing’s demands for advance warning of ships transiting its contiguous waters. In this instance, Royal Navy vessels need only carry out an innocent passage through the waters but, notably, without requesting permission or giving advanced notification, thereby indirectly refuting jurisdictional powers China is seeking to obtain.

In the second instance, Royal Navy vessels might challenge China’s excessive territorial claims – particularly those straight baselines drawn between islands – by sailing through them in a manner not befitting innocent passage. This might involve carrying out a brief man-overboard drill or the operation of a helicopter.

There is a question, naturally, of whether the Royal Navy should take part in such operations inside the 12 nautical mile line of certain Chinese features as the US Navy has begun to do. While there are risks in doing so, there are also risks in not doing so, particularly those man-made features or low-tide elevations, where China’s excessive claims are ridiculous. However, should the Royal Navy take part in such jurisdictional or territorial challenges, it must do so in a manner that does not increase instability in the region or risk a military response.

One way of decreasing risk is by opening up the programme to collective action of a number of like-minded states, but in a way that does not increase the number of vessels in-area. There is, for example, the ‘ship-rider’ programme, originally proposed by former US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift. He found that many states – both in the Indo-Pacific and in Europe – were torn between their national interests in upholding their maritime rights and their national interests in receiving Chinese investment and trade. China’s leadership has of course realised this and has become increasingly willing to ‘punish’ states in highly symbolic ways that impact domestic foreign policy debates in offending states. The HMS Albion’s transit, for example, was greeted with a threat in the China Daily – a state-run newspaper – that future transits could ‘put a spanner in the works’ of a post-Brexit free trade agreement.

The ship-rider idea aims to soften potential Chinese punishment by using collective action. So, for example, the next Royal Naval vessel to carry out a freedom of navigation manoeuvre might have on-board uniformed officers from, say, NATO, India, certain EU states which are not members of the Alliance or, perhaps, even regional states like Vietnam or the Philippines. Such a manoeuvre compounds and entangles China’s punishment strategy and also raises the prospect – however dim – of Beijing beginning to realise that increasing multilateralism around the South China Sea issue will necessitate compromise.

Another way of multilateralising the freedom of navigation manoeuvers in a manner that does not increase the risk of miscalculation is the ‘multiple hulls’ programme, whereby multiple ships transit the South China Sea together, with only one carrying out a freedom of navigation manoeuver while the others wait just outside the sector. So for example, a number of European powers might sail through the South China Sea on their way to take part in port visits, with only one taking part in the manoeuvre.

Such a concept is already a reality, albeit a very incipient one, through the various groupings which are being formed in the region: the US-Japan-Australia trilateral and the US-Japan-India-Australia Quad are both fairly new quasi-alliance groupings that have sprung up in the wake of China’s expansion over the South China Sea. A Global Britain that really wished to sustain its presence and its interests in the region could join such groupings and take part in interoperability-building joint exercises, like Cope North Guam or Pacific Bond. The former is an annual air warfare exercise in which British Typhoons might show their capabilities, while the latter is an annual trilateral maritime warfare exercise, to which Britain could display its anti-submarine-warfare-heavy Type-23 frigate.

A Global Britain that really does stand for the rules-based international system and wishes to protect its market access in Southeast Asia and the wider Pacific will need to craft a number of overlapping strategies for dealing with a variety of challenges. It will have to contend with the logistics and geographical challenges that the vast distances present, although Britain is lucky that it has access to many regional strategic hubs, including those in Singapore, Diego Garcia and Brunei. While geography presents many challenges, it also imposes a useful constraint: Britain has to rely on regional partners and allies for its forward-basing and must should negotiate new basing agreements with friendly regional powers. France’s recent basing agreement with India might serve as a template.

Britain will also have to craft an all-of-government China policy to deal with the political and economic challenges of an assertive rising state. It must be remembered that China needs access to Britain’s financial markets, its technologies, and its diplomatic and media soft power networks, just as Britain courts Chinese investment. But only when China realises Britain’s resolve would the government in London begin to have a real – if still marginal – impact on Chinese policy.


United Kingdom’s “Global Britain” Posture Facilitates Forward-leaning Indo-Pacific Policy

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CogitAsia-CSIS, 30 January, 2019

This year has been marked by the return of British naval power to the Indo-Pacific. For the first time since 2013, the United Kingdom (UK) deployed warships to the region, not only consecutively deploying three vessels to the area, but also increasing its cross-service defense engagement with regional partners. First, HMS Albion carried out a freedom of navigation maneuver near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, making the UK the only non-claimant state – other than the United States – to  openly challenge China’s excessive maritime claims; second, it took part in marine exercises with Japanese Self Defense Forces in Japan; and third, it expanded its trilateral relationship with Japan and the United States in an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise off the coast of the Philippines in early 2019. However, the relative success of these operations has not stopped questions being asked both inside the UK and in the region around their long-term sustainability – particularly in the wake of Russia’s 2014 take-over of the Crimea, its hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine, and with the 2018 Skripal poisonings. All of this has produced an intense domestic debate over the future of Britain’s global posture, ranging from the government forward-leaning, Mahanian “Global Britain” position, to an “honest-broker” approach that attempts to sail precariously between the U.S.-China trade rift.

Global Britain

While it is true that Brexit has propelled a core part of the Conservative Party toward the notion of Global Britain, it should also be noted that a major shift took place in UK strategic thinking from 2014, which saw neo-authoritarian military revanchism in the Crimea and the South China Sea. China’s island-building in international waters had a profound impact on Britain, given its long history of safeguarding the principle of the freedom of the seas. The 2014 National Strategy for Maritime Security, for example, noted, “The UK has significant political and economic interests in the Asia Pacific…it is important that all nations in the region resolve any maritime disputes peacefully and within the rule of law, while protecting and promoting freedom of navigation and trade.” At the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2015, Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon raised Britain’s concern about “the scale and speed of current land reclamation activities and the risk that these actions may pose to maritime freedom of navigation and to the stability of the South China Sea.”

So what?

Aside from the Royal Navy deployments, the UK has infused new urgency into what were steadily-growing political and security bilaterals with major regional players. Previously, many of these relationships puttered along, but lacked an overarching strategic logic. Now it would appear that Britain’s foreign and military policy establishment has linked the Global Britain vision with the “free-and-open” Indo-Pacific strategies of the region. In its Joint Ministerial 2+2 with Australia in July 2018, the UK foreign secretary and defence secretary agreed to “protect and promote the rules-based system,” while increasing cooperation and coordination over the South China Sea, within the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), seeking “opportunities for deeper maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” The agreement was marked by Australia’s decision to purchase a British design for its Hunter Class frigates. At $26 billion, the deal is a highly-promising indicator for sustained defense collaboration, given the strong political pull of maintaining Britain’s impressive defense industrial capability (British shipbuilding, aerospace, and defense industries bring in revenues of $40 billion, exceeding even Russia’s $31 billion).

That defense industrial pull has also helped fuel UK-Japan collaboration – on the Meteor missile, for example – with both states promoting what some have called, “the closest security ties since the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance.” In addition to defense collaboration, a regular cyber dialogue, and increasing intelligence-sharing, there has been a seismic shift in strategic dialogue. On January 10, 2019, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited London, welcoming the UK’s increased presence in the Indo-Pacific, and reiterating his support for the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The two sides pledged to collaborate further on infrastructure, 5G telecoms, cyber security, and maritime security.

In addition, London has also begun re-investing in its relations with South and Southeast Asia. UK officials made it a diplomatic priority last May to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to attend the Commonwealth summit. His appearance and red-carpet treatment seemed to indicate a “reset” in ties. More recently, Britain has begun delinking its ASEAN policy from the European Union, welcoming Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi to London this past month. As with Modi, the British policy class rolled out the red carpet, with Minister of State for Asia Mark Field, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, and a number of prime ministerial trade envoys meeting with the SG. As Field pointed out at during the gala dinner banquet, UK investment in ASEAN exceeds its investment in China and India combined, with ASEAN ranking as the third largest investor in the UK, with UK exports surging by 19 percent in 2017 alone.

Sustaining the momentum

China’s rise has seen it using that newfound power to implement shifts to the global order that favor its own strategic interests. It is no surprise that many regional states – allies and partners like Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam – have emphasized the rules-based system in their pleas for a UK return to Asia. Given Russian revanchism closer to home, UK policymakers have framed the China’s behavior as a wider struggle. There are real questions about how sustainable all of this is, given the volatile nature of Britain’s domestic situation. However, Global Britain is in many ways an adroit repurposing of the UK’s strategic direction after 2014. These drivers have economic as well as strategic weight, something that should make them “Brexit-proof” in the long term.

In terms of how the UK engages with regional partners, the fact is there are a number of directions that British power could go in Asia. As a recent Henry Jackson Society report recommended, Britain could create a policy of collective freedom of navigation maneuvers by using a “ship-rider” program, with NATO or ASEAN flag officers aboard British hulls. It could also suggest a “plane-rider” program, putting British officers aboard U.S. and Japanese surveillance aircraft. Most of all, it could help internationalize and multilateralize the issue so that it is not obscured by U.S.-China strategic competition. The South China Sea, after all, accounts for transit of nearly one-third of total global maritime trade. And that is just as much a UK issue as it is an American one.


Global Britain and Global Japan: A New Alliance in the Indo-Pacific?

With James Rogers, Asia Pacific Bulletin, 31 January, 2019

In January 2019, amidst all the Brexit-related commotion and confusion, British Prime Minister Theresa May took time out to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to London. Although the media focused on the timing of the visit – not least because of his warning over the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit and follow-on visit to the Netherlands, where a handful of Japanese companies may relocate or establish satellite offices – this was much more than just a shoring up of one political leader by another. The fact is that Japan and the UK have been moving closer together for over a decade, and not only in the diplomatic-economic sphere. For some time,
the two have been deepening their strategic and military cooperation.

In 2012, for example, the UK and Japan signed a defense cooperation memorandum, making Britain the first country other than the United States that Japan was willing to cooperate with militarily. A 2017 agreement saw an uptick in the willingness to play up the public profile of the growing relationship, whereby the two countries asserted that they were each other’s “closest security partners respectively in Asia and Europe.” Japan’s latest National Defence Programme Guidelines also highlight cooperation with the UK. Given that Japan’s other main partners in the Indo-Pacific – the United States, Australia, and India – also have deep historic and institutional linkages to the UK, a deeper strategic logic is likely at play and could be further leveraged. As China seeks to
revise the rules-based system in both maritime law and trade, powers that depend heavily on the system are beginning to band together in quasi-alliances.

Military cooperation and defense-industrial collaboration between the UK and Japan have continued to grow. A recent Henry Jackson Society report examining geopolitical rankings showed that, despite their geographical distance, the UK and Japan complement one another well. Japan has a significantly larger degree of “economic clout”, with greater net wealth and national income. Where the UK stands out is in terms of its “diplomatic leverage” and “military might”, particularly its naval strength, which is larger than France, Italy, and Germany combined. So Japan may be able to assist the UK as it withdraws from the European Union, just as the UK supports Japan’s strategic “normalisation”.

There are other attributes which the two island nations share. Both have an “offshore” approach in relation to their respective continents, Asia and Europe, fostering in each a “maritime” strategic culture. Both are liberal democracies with a strong support for human rights and global governance. Both are strong supporters – financially and diplomatically – of the rules-based system, including the United Nations, the World Trade
Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations. Both are also good “international citizens”, spending money on international development across the world.

However, closer strategic cooperation depends on more than just national similarity. Here, too, there are three drivers: China, Russia and the US. Japan has sought to “normalize” its post-Second World War strategic posture to hedge against China’s rise and revisionist inclinations. Tokyo’s decision late last year to procure the F35B and transform its two large new “helicopter carrying destroyers” into small aircraft carriers is evidence of the speed of the change. The UK, meanwhile, is keen to shore up the rules-based system – which it has done much to generate and underpin – particularly in light of China’s revisionism in the South China Sea, a major trade route upon which it relies. Brexit, disenchantment with Europe, and the wider “Global Britain” agenda add to this renewed focus.

Second, just as Britain has become more aware of China’s behavior, Japan appears more ready to react to Russian revanchism – having implemented bilateral sanctions in 2014 after the invasion of Ukraine – and continues to press for negotiations with Moscow over the Kuril Islands. While it would be a stretch to say that Russia is perceived as a threat by both island nations equally, both countries are increasingly alarmed by Russia’s “nonlinear” attacks on weaker powers and information offensives inside the West more generally.

The third factor is the evolving strategic posture and politics of the United States. As President Donald Trump secures bipartisan support from foreign policy elites for his push-back against the People’s Republic of China – one of the few areas where the president has support from both the Republicans and Democrats – Tokyo and London have begun to reorient themselves around America’s new strategic imperatives. The government review of telecommunications vendors in the UK and Japan’s decision to block Huawei from government contracts, is one example. Support for America’s World Trade Organization action against China is another.

So what is in store? In a recent edition of The Economist an unnamed British official went so far as to suggest that London and Tokyo may be heading towards a formal alliance with one another. This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, similar to the British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s recent proposal to re-establish naval bases in Southeast Asia. However, the tenuous state of the international system, not least in the Indo-Pacific, is rapidly bringing such propositions into the realm of policy.

In such circumstances, a UK-Japan alliance does not sound so unreasonable. Both nations are global leaders. Both flank either side of Eurasia, which is gradually emerging as an integrated space. And both nations are backed by –and in turn reinforce – US global power. Indeed, as China’s rise and revisionist inclinations develop further, it is not unthinkable that security alignments like the Quad could develop into broader NATO-like defense organizations, drawing together like-minded states and allies in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australasia.

As two of the world’s leading powers, the UK and Japan have the power to lay the path towards a more secure and prosperous future. This requires their closer alignment to generate a center of gravity from which to attract other countries into a wider project to re-stabilize the rules-based system to the extent that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open. This should help to ensure that the People’s Republic of China rises in a more peaceable fashion, while providing a counter to temper its authoritarian appetites. We are in a new age of geopolitics. Japan and the UK are thinking and acting geostrategically and globally once again.


UK Defence Journal, Henry Jones, 30 January, 2019

The report, published by The Henry Jackson Society and entitled ‘The South China Sea: Why It Matters to Global Britain‘, claims China’s “unlawful and excessive claims” in the area pose a significant “threat to British interests”. The UK must continue to “reject Chinese claims over international waters”.

It recommends establishing a policy of Royal Navy vessels cruising through to the sea to deter China, in addition to sending HMS Queen Elizabeth to the area when fully operational in 2020-21.

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