China-Taiwan war fears spark fresh plea for Britain to deploy troops to region
More British troops must be based in the Indo-Pacific region to counter the growing threat of China, ministers were told last night.
A senior group of MPs warned that Beijing could attack Taiwan within the next few years, prompting renewed calls for Western allies to strengthen their presence in the region.
But Britain has “little to no fighting force in the region and little by way of regular activity”, the Defence Select Committee said.
British submarines will begin visiting Australia, under the AUKUS programme, in three years time in a show of strength which will also see more American vessels sailing in the region.
And MPs concluded: “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.”
Vice-Chair of the Defence Committee, John Spellar MP, said: “The Indo-Pacific is of major importance for the UK, but it is unstable. Maintaining stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific will prove vital for long-term international security, and the security and prosperity of the UK.
“Despite the Government’s insistence that the Indo-Pacific Tilt has been ‘delivered’, our report found that the reality falls short of the rhetoric.
“We currently have no real military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific and are unlikely to be able to contribute significantly in the event of hostilities in the region.
“If we are serious about building up our presence – and if we are able to do so without disrupting our commitments elsewhere – we must allocate resources to efforts in the region, alongside our allies and partners.
“China has become increasingly aggressive in its pursuit of dominance, both regionally and internationally.
“It appears that China is preparing to confront Taiwan. In response to this, the UK Government and Armed Forces must ensure that we are prepared to respond to a variety of potential hostilities, from ‘grey zone’ activities to outright conflict.
“This needs to be more than just words, and must be treated with focus and urgency.”
China wants to match the US military’s capabilities by 2027.
And the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) currently has the largest navy in the World, with 340 ships and submarines.
Comparing the Chinese navy to Britain’s, Beijing boasts seven times as many destroyers, nearly quadruple the number of frigates, five times as many amphibious landing ships and potentially two additional aircraft carriers.
These vessels are mainly “modern multi-mission ships” – meaning they can be used to perform a variety of roles and tasks – and submarines.
MPs added: “There appears to be a third aircraft carrier close to completion, and a fourth that could possibly be nuclear-powered.
“We heard that the ability to man and maintain these three aircraft carriers to the required level poses an ongoing challenge.”
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The PLA also has at least 3,600 combat aircrafts, compared to Britain’s 354.
But MPs revealed Beijing may be struggling to provide logistics for their air force, potentially limiting its ability.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed during the Paris Summit in March to coordinate aircraft carrier deployments to the region.
The Defence Select Committee stated: “The UK’s regional military presence in the Indo-Pacific remains limited and the strategy to which it contributes is unclear.
“This contrasts to both the US—a global and Pacific power—and to France–a more comparable actor to the UK in terms of geography, scale, and military capability.
“Without a larger permanent presence it is unlikely that the UK would be able to make a substantial contribution to allied efforts in the event of conflict in the region.
“In order to deliver this, the Government must make a choice as to whether it will increase resources in the region, or rebalance current resources towards the Indo-Pacific.
“The Ministry of Defence should pursue closer cooperation with the United States and France and continue to pursue basing with other regional allies.
“All of these efforts should be consolidated into a single, cross-Government strategy for the Indo-Pacific which states how the UK’s military instruments should be utilised in both peacetime and during conflict.”
China’s “publicly stated ambition to ‘fight and win’ global wars by 2049 illustrates the threat it poses to international security. An important waypoint is China’s goal of establishing a fully modernised military—and a peer adversary of the United States—by 2027”, MPs said.
“The Government should carry out an assessment of China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to consider whether it should be labelled as a threat to national and international security.”
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said interfering with the AUKUS defence pact – signed by the UK, US and Australia – is a “high priority” for Beijing.
Britain and the US will supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines to counter China’s military ambitions in the Indo Pacific region, and the Royal Navy will upgrade its fleet as part of the landmark deal.
London and Canberra will build an updated version of the British Astute class submarine and American technology will be shared for the first time.
And MPs called for ministers to set out how much the new submarines will cost.
They said: “The UK must, however, be realistic and cognisant of the significant hurdles for all AUKUS partners in constructing nuclear-powered submarines.
“A fundamental challenge is the continuing lack of clarity about how many submarines will ultimately be built, the cost and the availability of a skilled workforce.
“We call on the Government to set out in its response to this report the anticipated timescale for producing a detailed plan on: how much it expects SSN-AUKUS to cost, how it will address the skills shortage, and how many SSN-AUKUS class it will produce.”
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