Westminster’s cross-party foreign affairs committee has sounded the alarm bell about the UK’s reliance on China.
There are concerns that a crisis involving China and Taiwan could have a “far more damaging” economic impact than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Alicia Kearns, the newly elected chairman of the committee, cautioned that “any conflict between Taiwan and China would be quickly felt in our high streets”.
The MPs note that “one-third of the world’s global trade passes through the South China Sea” and Taiwan produces 90 percent of all advanced semiconductors.
They warn of the danger of China’s “weaponisation” of supply chains and say the UK must “stand absolute against interference in our own country”. The report states the UK has developed a “strategic dependency on supply chains involving China across almost every sector”.
Ms Kearns said: “The more reliant we are on others, the less resilient we are as a nation.”
Highlighting worrying changes taking place in China, she said: “Over the past decade, the Chinese Communist Party has sought to tighten its authoritarian grip and has demonstrated a callous disregard for human rights. If the UK is to take a meaningful stand against the Chinese government, we need to wean ourselves off our dependence on China.”
She said she was surprised that Taiwan was “not mentioned once in the 122 pages” of the Government’s “integrated review” of defence and foreign policy.
The MPs say they would support a change in the designation of China from a “systemic competitor” to “threat” on the condition it was “accompanied by carefully calibrated and proportionate policy change, particularly on domestic resilience and security, rather than empty rhetoric”.
The MPs also take past governments to task for failing to stand up to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
They write: “While the blame for the war in Ukraine lies solely with Vladimir Putin, the failure of the west sufficiently to challenge Putin’s incursion into Georgia in 2008, his annexation of Crimea and parts of the Donbas in 2014 and his sponsorship of state murders in the UK in 2006 and 2018, undoubtedly emboldened him. More assertive sustained sanctions, especially following the first invasion of Ukraine, might have led Putin to think again before engaging in a further invasion in 2022.”
They also argue that Britain could have done more to prepare for the economic turmoil unleashed by the invasion, stating: “Greater and clearer-sighted prescience could also have enabled the UK and her allies to prepare better for the oil, gas and food supply problems that would inevitably result from a lengthy war in Ukraine, thereby weakening Putin’s hand.”
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox was not convinced of the case for officially labelling China a “threat”.
He commented: “I think we need to recognise that China is a major economic power, unlike Russia in the cold War. It is a competitor in the battle between freedom and totalitarianism but whether changing titles rather than nuancing policy is the answer is a moot point.
“You can get drawn into a game of tokenism when what you actually require are subtle alterations in policy.”