British Policy in Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia

Before discussing British policy in China, the question of whether this policy in Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia is based on an independent, utilitarian system must be answered. The reason why the US has pursued anti-Chinese policies will be analyzed prior to turning to British foreign policy in the region, and China in particular, with its effects and consequences.

Former and current US administrations have tried to focus on China’s coercive economic and foreign policies as it continues to gain more power, surpassing the United States in various sectors, such as the economy, military, cyberspace, etc, thus becoming a challenging competitor for the United States both as a superpower and as a country reluctant to allow China to surpass its global influence and supremacy.

The direct and indirect challenges posed to US interests by China’s emergence can be summarised in four areas:

  1. Restricting freedom of action by the US military in East Asia
  2. Reducing US economic influence in East Asia and its subregions
  3. Influencing US special political relations with most Asian powers
  4. Impacting formal and informal alliances negatively as America’s safe way of promoting peace and stability in Asia

What are China’s goals in terms of military influence in the region?

From the US point of view, the transformation of China’s military strategy and the modernisation of its military is a challenge to US hegemony.

The Americans see China’s huge military budget as a sign of Beijing’s determination to confront US presence in the Far East and a potential threat to US military supremacy in the Pacific.

According to a report published  on 29 December 2006 on national defence, China is modernising its national defence by emphasising on the role of modernisation and intelligence in the final process. It has established a three-step strategy which will be completed around 2050, at the same time as the country’s intelligence victory over competitors.

Theoretical Foundations

The views on China-US relations will be addressed here from the perspective of the theory of plurals.

Ashuke Schwein, a professor of peace and war studies at Uppsala University in Sweden, believes that China will have the upper hand in both the economic and military spheres in the next two decades.

Professor Carrie Brown of the Lau China Institute, King’s College London, says China will soon become the world’s largest economic power and will overtake the United States.

Renowned American war theorist, Joseph Nye , believes that Beijing intends to increase its soft power.

Brzezinski , who disagrees with most theorists, believes that China’s rise does not pose a threat to the United States and the international system for a number of reasons, and that it could lead to a peaceful path instead; growing Chinese military power is not a threat to the United States, neither in the current situation nor in the foreseeable future. China’s nuclear power is also largely a deterrent, and unlike the Soviet Union, China does not have the potential to create a universal ideological challenge for the United States, especially since their communist system is becoming a kind of nationalist oligarchy which will naturally not be welcomed and modelled worldwide.

But in a report published in May 2006, the Financial Times advised the then President Bush to take the possibility of China emerging as a rival power seriously.

Polls also show that China’s international prestige has increased, and Chinese public diplomacy is trying to shift its dominance from a hardware superiority to a software superiority. But what is China’s goal in achieving such superiority? China’s strategy of peaceful supremacy means that it is trying to get the outside world ready to accept an increase in its power. China has always discussed multilateralism in international politics, which is a challenge to the United States and the American doctrine which wants the world to be unipolar.

On the other hand, China presents itself as a great power which has achieved this position without colonisation; this indicates the creation of a favourable image in the minds of others as opposed to past colonial powers. China’s role in Southeast Asia has gradually increased, creating a major security concern for major powers, especially the United States. The concern covers a wide range of threats to military, ideological, strategic, economic, and mental and physical (material and spiritual) security, creating a balance of power or bloc against the United States in cooperation with regional powers.

If we accept that China’s economic, technological and military development is to continue, it could pose a number of threats to US interests as the most powerful global and extra regional player. China is a major geostrategic player which could have a significant impact on US regional and global interests because of its vast size and borders with Russia and Northeast, Southeast, South and Central Asia. The question arises as to what are the strategic, economic and other benefits of Southeast Asia which have attracted the attention of major powers?

The security environment of Asia-Pacific can be viewed from three perspectives:

  1. Security Structure

Firstly, from this perspective, the Asia-Pacific region is home to many of the world’s top powers and its actual and potential nuclear powers. Secondly, the region has attracted the strategic attention of major powers, namely the United States, Britain, China and Russia. Thirdly, the region has bilateral and multilateral alliances with the United States.

  1. Security Relations

As a result, Asia-Pacific faces many potential and actual tensions, including tensions over North And South Korea, and China and Taiwan as Japan, India and Pakistan’s neighbours. Of these, the US-China rivalry is the worst, including tensions over Taiwan and Tibet, as well as technology and trade. The reality, however, is that their competition goes deeper than that, such as competition over regional and global relations, China’s military modernisation, intangible competition in space, China’s technological innovation, especially in electronics, trade frictions over China’s industrial advancement, ideological differences, institutional differences,  such as differences in political structures, and so on.

  1. Actors

Actors in the Asia-Pacific region can be divided into two groups. One group is trying to maintain the existing international and regional order, and the second group is trying to revise the existing order and replace it with a new order. The first group is led by the United States and the second group by China and Russia; this dichotomy has complicated and obscured the political, security and regional situation.

The nature of Sino-US relations seems to be a key element in determining the security order in the region, which will ultimately show its power in a balanced way. According to Reuters, the latest research conducted by the British Centre for Economic and Trade Studies (CEBR) shows that by 2028, China will overtake the United States to become the world’s largest economy. According to research, China’s economic growth is expected to reach 5.7% annually in the period from 2021-2025, dropping to 4.5%  in the period from 2006-2030.

In the period from 2022 to 2024, the annual US economic growth rate will drop to 1.9%, dropping further to 1.6% after this period.

World Order in the Coming Decades

The Newsweek Neighborhood Website (has published a 144-page report titled “2040 Global Trends , a More Competitive World”, predicting future world trends for the next two decades. According to the report, competition between the United States and China is projected to affect most areas over the next two decades. Among the changes predicted for the next 20 years will be a shift in the centre of gravity for economic power from West to East, with Asian economies gaining a greater share of the global economy.

The report predicts that China’s share of the global GDP by 2040 will increase from 17.9 % in 2020 to 22.8% in 2040. On the other hand, during the same period, the US share of the global economy will decrease from  the current 24% to 20.1% in 2040; but some, such as the Centre for Economic and Trade Research based in the UK and holdings based in Japan, have said that the two countries’ different experiences during the coronavirus crisis have accelerated China’s overtake of the United States, which may happen as early as 2028, if not earlier.

Reasons Why China Has Become the World’s Economic Superpower

This country has used the free zones as a tool to its advantage in order to open its economy to the world, using the technology and science of developed countries. It has changed its laws and regulations to correct foreign investment and create a suitable environment for development. By increasing the number of its free zones, it has brought about quicker change in its national economy, while bringing its laws and general economic policy in line with the rules of the global economy.

The secret of China’s success lies in its unity in decision-making and its strong support for economic reforms in line with the goals of its free zones.

Other reasons for China’s development include its pragmatic policies in maintaining regional stability, gaining more economic benefits and increasing political investment to perpetuate economic development and political stability.

Furthermore, its large population, membership in important international organisations and proximity to Japan as one of the world’s economic powers, have all contributed to its rise as an economic superpower.

Have Sino-US relations been based solely on tension and competition?

This article answers the question that China and the United States, despite their political differences, have very close economic and trade relations, to the extent that the largest volume of bilateral trade in the world belongs to these two countries.

Sino-US Relations Under Trump

The Trump administration worked hard to limit the amount of American investment in China by imposing sanctions on Chinese companies and banning investment in the country. The move came after the United States increased tariffs on a large portion of its imports from China, leading to reciprocal actions by China, which came to be known as a “trade war”. The two countries agreed to end the trade war in 2019, but it did not take long for it to re-escalate.

Sino-US Relations Under Biden

Under Joe Biden, due to opposition by the US congress to a new trade agreement with China, the country does not have very good economic and trade relations with this country.

Next, British foreign policy  towards China will be analyzed and the question posed at the beginning of the article answered.

British Foreign Policy

British foreign policy is basically trade-oriented and economic interests have always topped its priorities in its relations with the outside world. Increasingly, this principle seems to be regaining its place in British foreign policy following Brexit, or the withdrawal from the European Union. Accordingly, global trade remains one of the main policy lines for the UK after its exit from the EU.

Political and Military Control in Asia

Political and military control  is important to Britain in the Asian region. In fact, a long-term British presence in the Asian region requires political and military control over its volatile developments.

Increasing British International Influence

In addition to potential material and economic losses for Britain, discussed in detail in a previous article, is the decline of its image and role in the international system.

In this context, Southeast Asia is doubtless a strategic target area for Britain due to its high geopolitical and geostrategic capacities; and China as the second largest economic power in the world is a significant competitor for Britain.

Regarding his country’s position on China, Boris Johnson says he does not want to be xenophobic and anti-Chinese and that a balance must be observed regarding China. The prime minister also states that London will be strict about some of Beijing’s policies, but will continue to interact with the country. Disputes between the two countries include Britain’s crackdown on China over its human rights, Taiwan, trade, finances, arms control and regional security.

He also acknowledges that Britain intends to enter into a more serious relationship with China in the post-election period and become its largest trading partner in Europe.

Agreements Between China and Britain

  • $62 billion investment in the UK
  • $18 billion deal to build a nuclear power plant in the Somerset area, off the south coast of England, to power 6 million British homes
  • £12 billion agreement signed between the two countries in the oil and gas sector in 2018
  • Contracts signed in health, finance, retail, industry, energy, technology, aerospace, education, and banking
  • Yuan reserves increased to £35 billion in the UK to support its companies in China’s Silk Road programme

There is a view that history has shown rivalry between major powers leads to a cold war, and there are many predictions that the two countries will take this tragic path. This view holds that both countries are preparing their military forces to confront each other, which is very alarming for both due to their economic interdependence. However, future relations between the two are based both on cooperation and competition.


Based on the documents and evidence presented in this article, it can be concluded that British policy in Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia is both interactive and confrontational regardless of the US anti-China policy in the region. This is especially important for Britain following Brexit since China is becoming the number one regional and global power. Britain is unwilling to suffer economic losses by losing such a strong partner, as well as its international prestige and influence.

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