The Indo-Pacific region is critical to the UK’s economic and security interests. The Indo-Pacific Tilt, as outlined by the Government in the 2021 Integrated Review, is recognition of the importance of the region.
There are, however, significant challenges to the rules-based international order and key flashpoints in the region which raise security threats for the UK and the wider global community. These flashpoints include ongoing border disputes between India and China; territorial disputes in the South China Sea; and a nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
The Committee supports the Government’s assessment that China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is “an epoch-defining and systemic challenge”. We are particularly concerned by the CCP’s wider goal to achieve regional and global dominance—and the increasingly aggressive means by which it is pursuing this—which highlights the long-term and strategic threat that China poses to the rules-based international order. It appears that China intends to confront Taiwan, whether by direct military action or ‘grey zone’ attacks, in the coming years.
With conflict over Taiwan potentially only years away, the Government and the UK Armed Forces must ensure that they have plans for the UK’s response, as currently, the UK’s regional military presence in the Indo-Pacific remains limited and the strategy to which it contributes is unclear. The Ministry of Defence should pursue closer cooperation with partners, including the US and France, and regional allies, to prepare for a range of actions by China against Taiwan.
The Committee welcomes the announcement of AUKUS, as well as the efforts of the Government to strengthen the UK’s relationships with Japan and India. The Government must continue to build on these relationships and foster further defence collaboration. Meanwhile, the UK should reaffirm its commitment as a reliable partner to countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific through engagement with ASEAN, its relationship with the Quad, and the Five Power Defence Arrangements.
Although we welcome the progress made in the region, we reject the notion that the ‘tilt’ has been ‘achieved’ from a Defence perspective. With only a modest presence compared to allies, little to no fighting force in the region, and little by way of regular activity, UK Defence’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific is far from being achieved. If we aspire to play any significant role in the Indo-Pacific this would need a major commitment of cash, equipment and personnel, or potentially rebalancing existing resources.
The UK Government’s future strategy for the Indo-Pacific is still unclear. Therefore, we urge the Government to create a single, cross-government Indo-Pacific strategy, and within this, the Ministry of Defence should include a comprehensive defence and diplomatic response to the growing threat posed by China under the CCP.