Britain’s emphasis on Indo-Pacific a welcome move for Japan, U.S.

Britain has announced a new policy to strengthen its involvement in the Indo-Pacific region. This is a welcome move for Japan and the United States, which are seeking to maintain a regional order based on rules.

“Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,” released by the British government to guide its foreign and security policy over the next decade, addresses not only the threat from Russia but also the growing influence of China.

The review argued that China’s military build-up and “international assertiveness” posed a risk to Britain and regarded China as a “systemic competitor.”

China has broken its promise to Britain stipulating a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, and has implemented a series of measures that trample on the rule of law and human rights. Britain apparently has decided that it needs a firm strategy against China.

In explaining the review, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “There is no question that China will pose a great challenge to an open society such as ours,” expressing his determination to protect democracy.

The review said the Indo-Pacific region “will be of increasing geopolitical and economic importance,” and emphasized Britain’s willingness to work with countries that share its values, including Japan, the United States, India and Australia.

The review illustrated Britain’s policy to increase the presence of the Royal Navy to secure freedom of navigation. As part of this effort, Britain said it will dispatch a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier to East Asia this year. Britain is expected to play a role in reinforcing the framework of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, which are aiming to achieve a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

However, China is geographically distant from Britain and unlikely to pose a direct threat. The British government also said it will pursue the expansion of economic relations with China. There will likely be certain limits to Britain’s increased involvement in the Indo-Pacific region.

Militarily, the review asserted that Russia “will remain the most acute direct threat” to Britain. It stressed the need for deterrence by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and declared that Britain will make a proactive contribution to the military framework.

It can be said that the review made clear Britain’s intention to support the defense of Europe even after it left the European Union.

The review stated that Britain will raise its nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from the current 180 to 260, citing “the evolving security environment.”

This would halt the momentum of nuclear disarmament, in which Britain has taken the lead among the nuclear powers. The decision must have been made in light of the current intensifying arms race among the United States, Russia and China.

To revive the momentum for nuclear disarmament, the United States and Russia must first ease tensions, and a framework for disarmament that also includes China must be explored.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 4, 2021.