A “major” injection of cash, equipment and personnel is needed if the UK is to play a major role in the Indo-Pacific, MPs have said, warning that conflict in the region may be only years away.
Ministers have been warned by the cross-party Commons Defense Committee that Britain's presence in the region, which has emerged as a potential geopolitical flashpoint amid tensions between the West and China, remains subdued.
MPs warned that a conflict between China and Taiwan could be “a matter of years”, with the government being urged to prepare for any such eventuality.
Rishi Sunak's government has officially called China a “determined and systematic provocation”, but MPs said officials will now have to consider whether under the Chinese Communist Party it should be labeled a “threat to national and international security”.
The report criticizes the current “limited” military presence in the Indo-Pacific despite the government's so-called “tilt” toward the region.
The foreign policy pivot in the region has been among Foreign Secretary James Cleverly's public priorities in recent months. The cabinet minister also visited Beijing in August amid efforts to stabilize ties with the world power.
MPs said: “With a modest presence compared to allies, little to no combat power in the region and little in the way of tactical activity, the UK's defense tilt in the Indo-Pacific is far from being met.
“If we aspire to play a significant role in the Indo-Pacific, this would require a significant commitment of cash, equipment and personnel, or possibly balance existing resources.”
MPs urged the government to prepare for any confrontation between Taiwan and China, with plans ready in case of any escalation.
Defense committee vice-chairman John Spellar said: “Maintaining stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific will prove vital to 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 make a significant contribution in the event of hostilities in the region.
“If we are serious about strengthening our presence – and if we are able to do so without disrupting our commitments elsewhere – we must commit resources to efforts in the region, together with our allies and partners.
“China has become increasingly aggressive in its pursuit of dominance, both regionally and internationally.
“It seems that China is preparing to confront Taiwan. In response to this, the UK government and armed forces must ensure that we are ready to respond to a variety of potential hostilities, from ‘grey zone' activities to direct conflict. This needs to be more than just lip service and needs to be addressed with focus and urgency.”
A government spokeswoman said: “We stand by our commitment to support a free and open Indo-Pacific, which is a whole of government effort as set out in the Comprehensive Review.
“We have Royal Navy ships permanently deployed in the region, a permanent military garrison in Brunei, the UK armed forces regularly take part in major exercises in the Indo-Pacific and the UK's Carrier Strike Group will return to the region in 2025.
“Additionally, our landmark Aukus partnership with the US and Australia and the Hiroshima Agreement with Japan, announced in May this year, are clear demonstrations of our long-term commitment to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”