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The golden age is over, we are now entering a new era in UK-Chinese relations

New tensions between the UK and China demonstrate that the UK is moving more firmly within the American orbit, writes Nabil Rastani | PA Images

Nabil Rastani | Dods Monitoring

3 min read

The Government’s decision to ban new Huawei 5G equipment from December 31st is a watershed moment in UK-Chinese relations.

In a short time, the Government has gone from considering deepening economic ties with China post Brexit, to sanctioning key individuals associated with the regime and reducing its reliance on Chinese investment.

In five years, relations with China have deteriorated dramatically

In 2015, the then chancellor George Osborne, expressed hopes that the UK’s relationship with China was entering a ‘Golden Age’.

His hopes were pinned on plans to stimulate the Northern Powerhouse programme through Chinese capital. Fast forward five years and the current Conservative administration has taken a far different policy doctrine towards China.

From a moral and ethical standpoint, the collapse of the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement with the UK’s former colony Hong Kong and the Chinese treatment of Uighur minorities in the west, have significantly contributed to this.

From a securitisation perspective, increasing Chinese interference in UK domestic affairs have only further strained relations.  

The future of securitisation

The ongoing Integrated Review has identified that as global militaries move between the fourth and fifth generation of warfare, the very nature of combat will dramatically shift.

Traditional pitched battles of airpower and firepower are no longer capable of bringing decisive victories. Instead, hybrid forms of combat, such as cyberwarfare, play an increasingly important role in determining the nature of securitisation and modern warfare more broadly.

The recently published Intelligence and Security Committee report alludes to this, clearly indicating that Chinese and Russian aggression within the cyber domain compromised key industries and state secrets within the UK.

The nature of cyberwarfare has meant that hard power mechanisms are no longer exclusively held by larger actors like Russia and China. They have also diffused to smaller states and actors, such as Iran and North Korea, which have both recently targeted UK security systems.

In order to counter this new form of warfare, the Government has supported a cohesive offensive cyber capabilities strategy, aimed at expanding the defensive networks present within both the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ.

Keeping China at bay means closer ties with America

More broadly, new tensions between the UK and China especially show the UK is moving more firmly within the Atlanticist, American orbit.

This is demonstrated by the Government’s decision to ban Huawei activities in the UK under significant pressure from Donald Trump.

The Government will seek to build deeper ties with states like the US through a new and comprehensive trade arrangement.

For the UK, this comes at a critical juncture in its geopolitical history. When the transition period ends on December 31st 2020, the Government will no longer be able to rely on a solid base of economic and political support from the European Union.

Instead, through the Global Britain doctrine, the Government will seek to build deeper ties with states like the US through a new and comprehensive trade arrangement.

Another element of this deeper cooperation with the US is the gradual declining role of NATO in upholding the UK’s defensive priorities, and a greater emphasis on the UK’s own military hard power.

The decision to deploy the new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the Far East, sends a clear message that the UK’s geopolitical ambitions are pivoting away from Europe, towards Asia. The consequences of such a decision are yet to be determined.


Nabil Rastani is the Dods Senior Political Consultant for Defence.



  • Integrated Review of Foreign Policy, Defence, Security, and International Development - findings published - TBC September
  • NATO Defence Ministers – meeting - TBC October
  • DVD - Wednesday, 4th November - Thursday, 5th November

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