Gavin Williamson’s speech today is another demonstration of how the UK government’s attitude to China has changed. In the Cameron Osborne era, the UK was determined to be China’s best friend in the West. All the emphasis was on creating a ‘golden era’ in Anglo-Chinese relations. But now, the government strikes a more realistic—and hawkish—tone on China. In his speech today, Williamson brackets China with Russia as a threat.
The headlines today have been about Williamson’s decision to send the UK’s new aircraft carrier, carrying both US and UK jets, to the Pacific in a message to Beijing. But just as telling is the emphasis that Williamson places on various alliances. He talks about the Five Eyes—the intelligence sharing agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—which is at the forefront of efforts to deal with Chinese intellectual property theft. Williamson also stresses the UK’s growing closeness to Japan, South Korea and India—three countries that are vital to any attempt to balance and contain Chinese power in Asia.
The government’s shift in thinking on China is sensible. Ultimately, the UK will not benefit from a world in which China’s power grows unchecked.