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China’s rise is frequently understood as antithetical to the Western world order. Increase in China’s military capability is often viewed as a challenge to the West. Co-operation thus proves difficult as fundamental ideological differences seem omnipresent and insurmountable.
Bottom-up military co-operation between the UK and China on specific non-traditional security issues presents a clear way through the obstacles of ideological differences. Co-operation on non-traditional security challenges, such as peacekeeping, post-disaster assistance and anti-piracy avoids entrenchment in an ideological corner because:
- Such challenges (e.g. piracy in the Gulf of Aden, political instability in the resource-rich Arab world) are intrinsically global, and threaten global prosperity
- Effective solutions to non-traditional security problems require multilateral approaches and pooling of capabilities.
Key British and Chinese policy documents suggest real potential for an expansion of UK-China military co-operation:
- The UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review emphasises the importance of strengthening co-operation with ‘emerging economic powers [such as] China’, and the need to address emerging non-traditional security threats
- In 2010, China’s Ministry of National Defence stressed the significance of successfully tackling non-traditional security issues and called on the PLA to increase joint military training and exercises with other countries.
Situational factors increase the incentive for both China and the UK to expand military co-operation:
- Facing budget cuts, the UK aims to make best possible use of its resources, in part through burden-sharing with rising powers such as China
- As its interests abroad expand and its military capabilities grow, China is beginning to take cautious steps towards a more active foreign policy. Yet, constrained by the need to present itself as a ‘responsible power’, Beijing requires international legitimisation of its actions. Furthermore, having been confined to its domestic borders for decades, the PLA does not have much experience in international operations. Both issues can be addressed by co-operation with the UK.
Potential Co-operation Programmes
- Establish a joint peacekeeping research centre at the PLA National Defense University, in order to institutionalise mid- to low-level military exchange
- Set up a regular dialogue on peacekeeping at international forums sanctioned at the highest political level, such as official UK-China Strategic Dialogue
- Encourage dialogue among civil society actors of the UK, China and conflict states, in order to promote a better understanding of conflicts, and to reconcile different perspectives on peacekeeping and peace-building
- Promote conflict sensitivity in peace-building and overseas assistance activities
- Engage in training programmes for Chinese peacekeeping troops
- Conduct research into how military co-operation can be broadened to include co-operation between paramilitary organisations of the two countries.
- Arrange joint familiarisation visits between relevant agencies of the two countries
- Build institutionalised communication channels and create regular platforms for information sharing
- Encourage UK policy-makers, practitioners and scholars to join the International Emergency Management Society (IEMS)
- Co-operate to train jointly post-disaster assistance personnel in developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region
- Conduct a joint study on a conflict-sensitive approach to the delivery of humanitarian aid in complex emergencies.
- Share force-enabling capabilities
- Establish and/or improve technological interoperability between the different navies
- Institutionalise regular information-sharing meetings between the PLAN and Royal Navy
- Establish a common naval guideline on how to apprehend piracy suspects
- Address the root cause of the piracy problem by helping to stabilise Somalia.