Stronger together: How US–UK collaboration can address China’s growing geopolitical ambition

Think tank: The Henry Jackson Society

Author(s): Darren G. Spinck

May 16, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Henry Jackson Society looks at Washington and London’s approach towards China and it’s changes. 

Washington’s and London’s “business as usual” approach toward the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has fundamentally changed, as most transatlantic policymakers have finally realised the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has its own economic, security and technology worldview which conflicts with US and UK national interests and values. Global flashpoints – from growing tensions in the Taiwan Strait to documented human rights abuses in Xinjiang – have made the past level of economic interconnectedness between the West and its partners within the PRC unsustainable. However, despite risks emanating from an interdependent trading relationship with the PRC, some in Europe – and even in the UK Government – appear to still pine for warm commercial ties with Beijing. Instead, in the face of this growing threat, Washington and London should aim to strengthen their “special relationship”, counter China’s techno-authoritarian worldview, and pursue policies in the transatlantic partnership’s joint national interests. Left unchallenged by Washington and London, China’s competing world order could lead to fractured economic and security partnerships for the United States and United Kingdom throughout the Indo-Pacific and Europe, with the CCP cementing its global hegemonic ambitions.

Following three years of China’s “isolation” from the world during the Covid-19 pandemic and the CCP’s “inward-looking” policymaking, Beijing has aggressively re-engaged the world. With a diplomatic blitzkrieg aimed at reframing deteriorating relations in Europe, deepening ties in the Middle East, and reframing itself as a power broker in the Pacific Islands and Central Asia, the PRC has focused on creating fissures in Western unity, diminishing US credibility, encouraging de-dollarisation, and expanding PRC-controllable supply chains. In an increasingly bipolar world, Washington and London should pursue grand strategies that reflect the national interests and values of both countries, while also reflecting the world’s shift away from US-led unipolarity and the current constraints of US and UK economic/military power. The “special relationship” should strive to continue encouraging US and UK partners to embrace a political and economic model based on classical liberalism – freedom of speech, religious liberty, economic freedom and an independent and uncensored media – with policies pursued by elected representatives which reflect the will of the electorate. Denying China its ability to supplant the pro-market, democratic vision of the transatlantic partners and dominate any region with its own trade or military bloc will require a two-pronged denial strategy (defence and economic).

US and UK technology policy must also align, as the CCP can use advances in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics and other advanced and emerging technologies to further its techno-authoritarian worldview. With 60 percent of the world’s population living in the Indo-Pacific, and the region becoming the primary engine of global economic growth within the next three decades, a free and open Indo-Pacific is unquestionably in the vital national interest of both the United States and United Kingdom. An overarching objective of US and UK foreign policies should be denying the CCP its ability to form an economic or military bloc which would allow the PRC to establish hegemony in the Indo-Pacific or any other global region. This will require modernisation of military capabilities; pursuing policies to limit the increased use of the yuan as a global currency; reshoring critical manufacturing and liberalising trade policies with partners sharing similar national interests; securing supply chains and sea/air trade routes in the Indo-Pacific and Europe; and maintaining a lead on policymaking for emerging and advanced technologies.