London: This week, Rishi Sunak delivered his first major foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. As explained by the Rt Hon Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Nicholas Lyons, who proposed a private sector UK Growth Fund of £50 billion or more “to invest in long-term asset classes… in infrastructure, in property, and in private equity… supporting the growth economy, green technology, and renewable,” one of the purposes of the city is to provide opportunities to people across the UK and to ensure the city uses its financial firepower for a positive social purpose.
The Prime Minister began his speech by affirming Britain’s openness and hospitality to foreigners and that currently in need, including Hongkongers, Afghans, and Ukrainians. He referenced Edmund Burke about the changes that geopolitics has affected, how the UK’s adversaries have evolved, and how the UK must counter competitors with “robust pragmatism,” strategies to be unveiled in the updated Integrated Review in the New Year. Sunak’s pragmatism involves standing by and aiding Ukraine for as long as it takes, reinvigorating European relationships to tackle security and illegal migration (in July 2022, the UK applied to join PESCO’s Military Mobility project, this received formal approval at a meeting of EU Defence Ministers on 15 November); and engaging with the new European Political Community without aligning with EU law.
On China, Sunak has abandoned the fantasy that China will become more like the West, he said the CCP is a systemic challenge to British values and interests that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism. Sunak, with the UK’s partners and allies, intends to end global dependence on authoritarian regimes. He highlighted China’s recent treatment of a BBC journalist, the abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong but acknowledged Chinese participation was necessary in issues around climate change.
Next Sunak presented the opportunities in the Indo-Pacific, what Liz Truss called “geoeconomics,” by pursuing FTAs with Indonesia, India, and Malaysia and joining the CPTPP, the Trans-Pacific trade deal, which means keeping trade lines and navigation open, which means augmenting the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore, AUKUS, and the Future Combat Air System with Italy and Japan.
The PM ended with a vow to protect freedom in a new and progressive way. It is clear the intention is there, but as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader pointed out, it needs more definition.
During his leadership campaign, Rishi Sunak called China a threat to the UK’s national and economic security. Although this speech is not exactly a U-turn, it does represent a diluted position. Thus far, against the “systemic threat” of China, the UK has blocked the sale of Newport Water to a Chinese entity, clamped down on Hikvision and Dahua surveillance cameras, and faced off with Huawei over 5G. Just this week, the government confirmed its decision to back Sizewell C’s nuclear development to the tune of £700 billion and generate reliable, clean electricity for 6 million homes while simultaneously producing thousands of high-value jobs. This investment allows China General Nuclear Power Group to exit from the project, including buy-out costs, any tax due, and commercial arrangements; it is expected the new National Security and Investment Act will have similar dramatic interventions in business transactions and takeovers in the name of national security.
Richard Graham is appointed as Trade Envoy to the ASEAN Economic Community, a single market that comes into being this December.
At Australia’s National Press Club, Minister for the Indo-Pacific Anne-Marie Trevelyan reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to Australia and the wider region. She said, “This region is critical to the UK—to our economy, our security, and the international rules-based system that both our countries cherish… Of course, we cannot talk about the Indo-Pacific region without considering the role of China. It is important to have dialogue and maintain engagement and bilateral trade with China, a global actor and driver of growth. But China poses a systemic challenge to our shared values and interests when it departs from global rules and norms and when it aligns itself with aggressive countries like Russia.”
This week, the Office of National Statistics released some early data and analysis from the Census of 2021. The main findings are that the population in England and Wales is the largest ever recorded at 59,597,300, an increase of 3.5 million since 2011. The population is ageing, with 18.6% of people aged 65 or older, up from 16.4% a decade earlier. Women make up 51.0% of the population in England and Wales. Christianity is now a minority religion, with only 46.2% of the population identifying as Christians, while 37.2% claim to have no faith at all; in cosmopolitan London, only 36.8% identify as “white”; Polish is still the most common non-UK identity, followed by Romanian, Indian, and Irish.