Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to raise this important topic. There is no doubt that China shocked both its neighbours and the international community when, last November, it announced its highly controversial decision to create an ADIZ beyond its territorial airspace in the skies above the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. Those shock-waves are still reverberating around the region and beyond, and I believe it is essential for British interests that we adopt a clear position when assessing the significance of China’s abrupt unilateral action. In particular, China promised emergency defence measures in the case of non-compliance and an intent to establish more of these zones in the future.
In this latest escalation, Beijing insists that the ADIZ was drawn with no specific country in mind, but it seems highly likely that it was intended as a rebuke to the Japanese Government for their private purchase of three of the islands in September 2012—a move that gave rise to anti-Japan protests across China and caused concern among Japan’s allies. Since then, Chinese coastguard vessels have repeatedly asserted an operational presence in the territorial seas around the islands, raising the spectre of a new Sino-Japanese conflict and sparking fears of tit-for-tat retaliatory measures spreading volatility and uncertainty across the region.
Of course, ADIZs are hardly uncommon in the region and have been used to political ends in the past, but no other country in the region extends its ADIZ to cover disputed territory that it does not control. Following the announcement, the United States expressed its “deep concern”, as did the EU. Does the Minister agree that incorporating the skies over the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands within its alert zone is, at best, a significant misjudgment on China’s part and that, beyond the present war of words, it will increase the likelihood of further escalation, creating fertile conditions for a serious incident in the region as a result?
This particular dispute in the East China Sea has attracted much attention because of the potential for war between the region’s biggest economies. However, as this House well knows, the resource-rich South China Sea is the subject of a number of equally contentious territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam. Worryingly, clashes in the South and East China Seas have risen significantly over the past two years, with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam all accusing China of a more aggressive posture over disputed territories and waters.
It would cause international outrage if China were to create an ADIZ over the whole South China Sea, but this has not stopped Beijing from choosing to provoke its neighbours, most particularly in its decision to use an image of the highly controversial “nine-dash line” in Chinese passports in 2012. A Chinese ADIZ in the north of the South China Sea would be particularly sensitive, especially if it overlapped with Vietnam’s ADIZ and included the disputed Paracel Islands.
Of course, we cannot debate this issue without reference to British interests in the region. The region’s economic vitality, its influence and its ever-increasing importance are without doubt and its dynamism fuels the global economy. Last year, ahead of a visit there, the Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire, in a candid and important statement, rightly called Japan,
“our closest partner in Asia”.
“Whether it is global trade or international peacekeeping our relationship with Japan is fundamental to UK foreign policy, not just in Asia but around the world”.
Our close ties and mutual interests with Japan are particularly articulated through our long record of working together to maintain Asia-Pacific regional stability, as well as in a host of other global security issues, from reconstruction in Afghanistan and counterproliferation in Iran to cyberdefence. It is equally important that we work together with China to improve international stability and security, to increase mutual prosperity and to support China’s process of modernisation and reform.
From the Sino-Japanese wars and the occupation of Manchuria, the relationships in the region are deep, complex and historically multilayered. The China-Japan relationship is at the very core of this inextricable enmeshing of old rivalries, wars, antagonism and competition. Memories of Japan’s early 20th century empire-building are still raw within the region—thus the Chinese reaction to Prime Minister Abe’s recent visit to the Yasukuni shrine. China’s past empire, too, is surely heavy and emotive historical baggage for today’s Chinese leaders to carry as they contemplate the future regional hierarchy.
Beijing has argued that its latest move is no more than legitimate defence. However, the Chinese concept of defence is notoriously broad. Officially, all Chinese security policies and uses of force since 1949 have been defensive, this being the most recent case of China defending Chinese territory. However, in recent years in particular, Beijing has seemed unwilling to recognise that, in the eyes of its neighbours, Chinese defence might appear indistinguishable from Chinese aggression.
It is, of course, the law of unintended consequences that we fear: stoking simmering tensions and raising the temperature for short-term political gain can be the touch-paper for conflagrations that quickly get out of control. This is a real flashpoint—not because any country necessarily individually wants to start a shooting war, but because accidents happen.
This is all happening at a time when the security balance of the region is changing. The present poor state of relations between Japan and China is certainly a catalyst for that change, if not a cause. In the face of sharp criticism from China, Japan is increasingly moving away from its post-war pacifist stance. Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a new five-year defence spending plan that calls for the acquisition of drones, jet fighters, destroyers and amphibious assault vehicles to bolster the nation’s armed forces. Prime Minister Abe described the spending plan as “proactive pacifism”, but—significantly, given Japan’s traditionally pacifist public—with a substantial measure of popular support, it continues a trend of reversing a decade of military cuts to counter China’s rapid military build-up and the relative decline of American influence. Although the US still provides the basis for Japan’s national security, under the new draft strategy, Japan will,
“build a comprehensive defensive posture that can completely defend our nation”.
That is an important declaration of intent.
Much of the new spending will go towards strengthening Japan’s ability to monitor and defend the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands among others, and will include more early-warning aircraft stationed in Okinawa and the purchase of unarmed surveillance drones. China’s efforts to pursue a more proactive diplomacy with its neighbours, in quiet rejection of Deng Xiaoping’s famous low-key approach to foreign affairs, saw Beijing hold a major conference on peripheral diplomacy last September. Ironically, it was at this conference, intended to demonstrate the leadership’s wish to promote a stable regional environment for China’s future development, that final approval was reportedly given to the long-held objective of establishing the East China Sea ADIZ and reinforcing China’s claim to disputed maritime territories.
The question remains: what can and should the UK do? With the public mood in both Japan and China being one of renewed nationalism and self-assertion, how can a period of political quiet and trust between China and Japan be engendered, prior to the resumption of high-level discussions on confidence-building measures? Will confidence-building measures be enough?
As noble Lords are well aware, two days after the Chinese ADIZ announcement, the US Administration flew B52 bombers over the disputed islands without alerting China, in what can only be described as a warning to Beijing. The key dynamic is clearly the relationship with America. For the US in particular, it will be a fine balance to urge restraint by all parties and diffuse these looming confrontations on the one hand, while robustly reaffirming its security commitment to Japan.
It remains to be seen what tangible support Britain might be able to bring to bear in future and what, if anything, we—or, indeed, Europe—could do practically in terms of hard power to shape or respond to the present situation in East Asia, should the need arise. We can and should use our very effective diplomacy and soft power to act as an influence multiplier in support of stability and to help to build a capable regional, multilateral security structure that would encompass a workable code of conduct to avoid a new round of ADIZs announced in the South China Sea. But what comes next, if confidence-building mechanisms such as hotlines, agreements on incidents at sea and mid- and high-level diplomacy do not prove sufficient?
My remarks today would not be complete without some thoughts on where this competition for influence will end. This is about the whole shift of economic and political power and influence to Asia. It seems to me that the tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting and that the rearrangement of the post-war settlement in the wider Pacific Rim ultimately lies ahead of us. As we know, China is rapidly and profoundly changing. China’s rise inevitably challenges the current system, built by Western states and reflecting their interests and rules-based values.
The issue of the Chinese ADIZ, while pressing, is a jigsaw puzzle piece in a much bigger picture. With China’s rise, the dynamics of the region are changing, and it remains to be seen who will win and who will lose in this global shift of power and influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Will we see a change from a US-led regional security system to a Chinese-led one, and who will decide? The extent to which countries in the region continue to want an American counterweight to the rise of their mighty neighbour and the extent to which the US will continue to provide is key.
We have heard a great deal about Mr Obama’s rebalancing to Asia, to extricate the US from more than a decade of war in the greater Middle East and to pivot America’s strategic focus and resources towards Asia and the Pacific Rim, and about the highly complex relationships with China and key US allies there. For the United States, China has become, if not the key, certainly a key bilateral relationship.
In conclusion, within its region China remains a solitary rising power, facing potentially insurmountable domestic challenges and currently encircled by US military bases and allies. There is still a major risk of mutual misunderstanding, miscalculation and strategic non-comprehension between China and the United States, and it seems clear that our policy should be to help diffuse that trust deficit when we can. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s thoughts on whether she believes that is a sensible way forward and on how we in the UK can help realise it for the future peace, security and prosperity not just of the region but of the world.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan on securing this debate. I am afraid that he pipped me to the post, as I very much wanted to initiate a debate on the same subject. My noble friend said a great deal in his brief speech and I will not repeat many of the points. However, there are two or three that I want to emphasise.
In the year when we remember the centenary of the Great War it is important to reflect that it is issues that are unforeseen that have the ability to impact on our own preoccupations and interests, however far off they may seem. My noble friend has laid out the background and history of the current stand-off, but there are two or three things I want to draw out in my intervention.
While the introduction by China of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea is not of itself remarkable—one should acknowledge that several of the neighbouring countries in the region have one—what is notable is China’s timing and the content and nature of its announcement. Japan’s own air defence identification zone was announced well ahead of implementation and as part of a transparent process with consultation. China did so without any of those criteria in place beforehand. Moreover, requiring aircraft whose destination is not Chinese territory to comply with its requirements is out of the ordinary. It is provocative in that it covers territory that is internationally recognised as being controlled by a foreign power—in this case, Japan.
One of the things we are learning about the new and rising China is that the art of diplomacy is not its forte on this matter. Let us hope that rational geostrategic calculation is. I read with interest the Foreign Secretary’s response to these heightened tensions between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the other place only a few weeks ago. His view was that the UK saw it as a regional issue to be resolved regionally. While the UK itself may not wish to comment on the dispute publicly, it undoubtedly has a stake in what happens there. China is a United Nations permanent five member. Another of our fellow P5 members and a United Kingdom ally—the United States—has a security treaty with Japan, among other east Asian countries. A rising of tensions between China and Japan cannot affect us as mere bystanders, and I know will be a subject of great concern in government and beyond.
In assessing the provocations and counterprovocations that have taken place between China and its neighbours recently, one has to note a fundamental difference. Japan is a democracy. As such, it cannot control all the actions of its citizens in a way that China can and does. China appears to have been prompted to set up the air defence identification zone in this manner as a retaliatory step aimed at the 2012 decision by the Japanese Government to buy three Senkaku/Diaoyu islands from their private owner. Japan, faced with a situation where a right-wing nationalist, Mr Ishihara, the former mayor of Tokyo, was threatening to purchase the islands, chose to take greater control over events by buying them for the state. A reasonable interpretation one can put on this action by the state was that it was acting to prevent escalation of the situation by a nationalist, but nevertheless elected, politician.
This is not to say that the Japanese Government themselves do not provoke. The visit by the Prime Minister to the Yasukuni shrine last month, particularly, it seems, calculated to insult China and South Korea, was misjudged, as the noble Lord said. However much we may wish that the Japanese Government did not set out to be insensitive, ultimately we have to accept that it is for the people of Japan to pass judgment on their leaders’ decisions—a luxury not afforded to Chinese citizens. Thus it is somewhat easier to comprehend Japanese actions than it is Chinese.
Turning to the implications of the air defence identification zone, I have to agree with RUSI’s assessment that China’s motives there are probably to establish a quasi legal basis for boosting its sovereignty claims to the Senkaku. Changing the facts on the ground, as the Israelis famously demonstrate, or, in this case, the “lines on the map”, to underpin its long-term claims, can result in success. However, if China sought to test the US “Pacific pivot”, then the immediate deployment of B-52 bombers to fly through the ADIZ must have answered its question.
Another long-term effect of this sudden expansion of Chinese power is the change in Japan’s calculations in its own geostrategic imperatives. One cannot see it as accidental that Japan announced its first ever national security strategy just weeks after the declaration by China of its ADIZ in the East China Sea. The strategy, with its stated aim to make a more “proactive contribution to peace”, refers generally to more complex and grave national security challenges that Japan faces, but also comments specifically on China’s attempts to change the status quo through coercion. So we will have a five-year military build-up on Japan’s part. More destroyers, more submarines and more F-15s might all be seen as a positive contribution to its security and may, indeed, be welcome in Washington, facing its own budget cuts, as one American ally starts shouldering a greater part of its defence burden, but it surely should not be seen as comfortable in China. An arms race is seldom an end in itself, as history has taught us.
Some noble Lords might have seen “Newsnight” a few days ago on the vexed issue of these islands. We had the spectacle of Jeremy Paxman interviewing the Japanese ambassador for a few minutes, then walking eight whole steps across the studio floor to sit in another chair and interview the Chinese ambassador about the same issue. The questions overlapped. Why blame one another? Why not go to international arbitration over the islands? Why not solve it multilaterally? Are you trying to solve it bilaterally? The question we viewers were asking each other was: if two senior diplomats could not even sit in the same group of chairs in a television studio, how on earth can any sensible solution be found to this matter?
The United Kingdom is often criticised over its dispute in the Falkland Islands, particularly as it is a United Nations Security Council member. However, the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute is not analogous. We may hold a referendum but there are no people to vote on these uninhabited bits of rock. It is, therefore, sad to see that China, while rightfully wanting us to respect its proud imperial past, its ancient culture and its breathtaking advancement now, cannot submit, as a great power, to international arbitration so that a resolution to its disputes with its neighbours might be found. One can only hope that it will be able to do so in time. Meanwhile we must all hope that restraint will be the path that both China and her neighbours will choose.
My Lords, it is very useful that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has drawn attention to this issue, including all the complexities that lie behind it and all the dangers that may lie ahead. In a timed debate in your Lordships’ House, it is rather strange to find oneself allocated a longish period of time in which to speak and, with permission, I hope not to use all that time. Perhaps I may use this issue to draw out some rather broader lessons. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred to all the disputes that have occurred over many years in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, particularly the latter with, for years, Chinese maps drawing a line right round the outer edges of the South China Sea, so creating disputed territory with Vietnam, with the Philippines, with Malaysia and in a very small way with Burma.
A striking point about that long period of dispute is that, despite clashes and indeed some loss of life, there have been no major conflicts. Many years ago, noble Lords may remember that there was a very acute dispute over two islands just off the coast of mainland China: Quemoy or Kinmen and Matsu. They may also remember that, for some 20 years after the crisis had passed, there was a tacit agreement between the two sides that shells, most of which contained propaganda leaflets, would be fired only on odd days of the week, and on even days of the week no shells would be fired and they could carry out their agricultural activities. The key to that was that it was a play, a Peking opera, in which everyone knew the script, and that avoided the danger.
Much more recently we have had the phenomenon of China’s growing military and naval power. I suggest that some of that is going in a helpful direction. I cite the Chinese involvement in the Gulf of Aden, which is a very interesting development in the anti-piracy campaigns off the coast of Somaliland, or China’s involvement with the United Nations peacekeeping operations, or humanitarian assistance. All of that has been very valuable. However, it is difficult to try to incorporate that into the existing world order.
It is very clear, as mentioned by both noble Lords who have spoken, that China is now a very rapidly growing economic power—indeed, far more rapidly growing economically than militarily. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, a shifting of the tectonic plates is going on and there is nothing more dangerous in history than a shifting of the plates, when an unsatisfied power or a power that feels that is has lost out over the past hundred years reasserts itself and comes into conflict with the then existing world order. Many of the arrangements in the existing world order, of course, pre-date the time when China re-emerged onto the international stage. It was a time when China was inward looking. It may be that we need to be aware of this, and sometimes make adjustments in these international arrangements, to incorporate the present power of China and encourage it to play a major but, if possible, benevolent role in world affairs. That may require a hard effort.
I mentioned Quemoy and Matsu, and the almost “Peking opera” arrangement whereby you fired on one day but not the next. The danger is that now people will not necessarily know the script. They did then, but if they do not know it now, the dangers are very great. It is therefore important for us to build up the interrelationships we have with China in strategic and military affairs, both diplomatically and between armed forces. Of course, it is the Americans who will play the major part in that, but we, too, can play a role, and I hope we will hear from the Minister that we are playing a role in that area, which will be an important element in how future crises are handled.
For ourselves, we cannot pretend that we are major players. The United States is the major player and will go on being the major player. Equally, we cannot shut our eyes to what is happening and to the potential dangers. What we can do—again, I hope that the Minister can confirm what we are doing—is build up our connections with China. I am thinking not just of commercial connections but of the way in which young people go for education from China to here—and, equally, from here to China. Thus can long-term relationships be built. I am also thinking of the building up of things such as the Chinese legal system, which that country is working hard on and with which we can help in various ways.
In ways such as those, although we may not be one of the major players, we can sensibly help prevent relatively small disputes developing into serious and dangerous conflicts.
My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for bringing this subject to the Floor of the House, because it has always been my estimation, given that the Iranian situation is perhaps moving towards a position of being resolved—or at least the heat is coming out of it—that this area of relations in the East and South China Seas is the most dangerous part of the globe in terms of its potential effects.
I wanted to engage in this debate also because when our Prime Minister recently visited China, the press coverage—it may not have been the fault of No. 10’s efforts—gave no mention of this dispute, even in the serious newspapers, and instead centred on trade. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what conversations took place during that visit in late December, or whenever it was, about the incident we are discussing. Clearly, this has the potential to be a major world problem. Not only are there disputes in the East and South China Seas but there is a territorial claim involving Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India. That, too, has been dealt with using what to us sophisticated diplomats in the western world seem to be unsophisticated changes in policy, or unexpected and sudden very fierce positions, that make everyone in the region nervous.
I used to be a director of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group, which involves a number of people in this House, as well as academics and industrialists. It is very sympathetic towards Japan which, as other Members have said, must be our strongest ally, and which is involved in our closest relationships in the Far East in all sorts of ways. However, I do not think that Japan has necessarily been completely correct in the way it has sometimes dealt with this. The purchase of the islands, which in some ways may have provoked this dispute, was perhaps not done in the best way that it could have been. There was surely going to be some sort of Chinese reaction. Japan has altered its own air defence identification zone a couple of times since it was established after the war. I do not suspect that it talked to China about that at the time.
More recently, of course, we had the visit by Prime Minister Abe to the war shrine, which everybody knew was going to be—again—provocative. Never mind what official Chinese government views are: clearly, the memory of the invasion of China by Japan in the 1930s and the 1940s is still very strongly in the minds of the Chinese people, with all the atrocities that happened at that time. There is still a great deal of understandable resentment of that period of history.
Added to that—not a tinder-box as yet, but a concern—is the very real United States pivot towards the Pacific, which affects Europe, the western hemisphere and our own defence requirements. It has resulted in changes in defence arrangements with Australia. China itself, through its own actions, is starting to see this as a move towards encirclement. This is clearly something it sees as a problem in relation to its own national security. Of course, we would look at that and say, “That is clearly provoked by a number of China’s own actions, and the ASEAN states are themselves going to be nervous and look for outside help, primarily from the United States and its strengthened relationship with the Pacific Rim because of these changes”.
As the noble Lord has just said, China sees itself as having had 100 years of humiliation and, as a result of that, there are all sorts of difficult diplomatic tasks. I was privileged to chair this House’s European Union Sub-Committee on External Affairs. We visited China three and a half years ago, looking at EU-China relations. There were a couple of things that really came out to me during that visit. One was meeting a retired senior military man at one of the Beijing universities. On the whole, when you go to China, you do not meet any officials who say anything that has not been agreed beforehand, and he was extremely positive in his own regard when he stated that one of China’s aims was to see the US Sixth Fleet banished from the East China Sea. That was clearly something he was putting forward to us; it was obviously not official Chinese government policy, but a view of how he saw the future. There are, therefore, a number of issues about the future that we can be very pessimistic about.
As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, I would like to hear the Minister’s views on the fairly strong statement made by Catherine Ashton—the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland—on behalf of the EU, soon after the air defence zone was declared. Europe has in many ways a soft-power ability here; it certainly does not have a hard-power ability in respect to this region, but it does have the ability perhaps, as a non-threatening power in the world, to help China in some way through the diplomacy that is needed in this region.
Some people in Europe still see China—although I would not describe it as such—as an adolescent power in respect of being able to deal with worldwide diplomacy and as a great power; they say it still has a lot to learn. That is clearly a patronising way of putting it, but China is moving from being a defender of the developing world to being a great power again itself. It needs to make those adjustments and perhaps it needs help.
Sometimes, the situation in the Pacific is seen as equivalent to 100 years ago—1914—in Europe. Clearly, that is an exaggeration. But as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others have already said, the formula is there. The circumstances are there for many mistakes to be made and for actions to happen that are not intended. I still see this as one of the challenges for the globe and a way in which Europe can involve itself over the next few years.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Before I say anything else, I want to say how much I appreciated the overview provided by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, which was obviously drawn from huge experience. When we talk about China and this region, it is important to get a sense of the breadth of history, and I appreciated that.
This is a helpful opportunity to debate what may be a very significant issue for regional and world stability in the area or what may be slightly less harmful than that—unhelpful posturing on the part of a number of regional players. What it certainly does do is raise the question of how these matters are being played out, as the Asian century kicks off, and the importance of the United States in trying to deal with those strategic changes.
Any review of the maps—and I have tried—shows the complexity of the overlapping air defence identification zones around Japan and in the East China Sea. China, as we have acknowledged, is in no sense the first. Half of the area of China’s new zone overlaps with the Japanese zone in the East China Sea, and that zone was introduced shortly after World War II during the United States occupation. It overlaps to a smaller extent with the South Korean and Taiwanese zones. The South Korean zone was created as long ago as 1951. All of the zones impose some requirements, although it is plain that the Chinese initiative goes far wider than the requirements that are seen in other zones.
Since 1950, there has been, as the Chinese Government are reasonable in pointing out, a joint United States and Canadian zone, but it is also true that the United States does not apply its procedures to any foreign aircraft that have no intention of entering its airspace. That is a big difference, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, was quite right to remind us of that and of the absence of consultation. The United States on this basis does not accept the right of any coastal nation to apply ADIZ procedures to any foreign aircraft not intending to enter that airspace, and nor do we.
There is an overlap and there are competing zones with different procedures. That would be confusing and risky enough, but the issue is made much more confusing by the fact that some others, including Russia and China, do not recognise the Japanese zone at all. Historically, the Japanese have unilaterally on occasions increased their zone.
Given the volume of commercial airline flights and multiple routes—a factor that accompanies the growth of the economies in the region—the confusion and risk are considerably multiplied by any attempt to act on the zone procedures rather than, as I suspect may be the case, to use them as popular and populist rhetoric. Of course, the problem with populist rhetoric is precisely that it is popular. Consequently, each movement of aircraft or ships, in particular of military vehicles, ignites a popular demand for action to see off those insulting national prestige.
This is a climate in which the protagonists tend to test one another’s resolve. As soon as China announced its air defence zone in November, the United States, as we know, sent military assets through the zone. Chinese fighter jets shadowed the military aircraft and vessels shadowed vessels patrolling in the disputed waters. Japan’s leading newspaper reported that the Chinese intention is to expand their zone further until it gets more or less to the Japanese shore. There are close passes of shipping and there are fighters shadowing other fighters and bombers.
My difficulty in understanding what these regional neighbours see as the advantage in the increasingly bellicose language is that, if it is essentially rhetoric, all it does is destabilise the region without any obvious sensible purpose. Still less easy is it to understand the benefit of close brushes of a military kind, and there is no conceivable benefit in threatening to interfere with normal air traffic.
I take some marginal comfort from the fact that those threatening each other tend to be very disciplined nations with highly disciplined forces. They are probably not too liable to have accidents, but the issue must still be important enough for the international institutions to try to lower the temperature. Efforts in this direction are very important. There is too much at risk in destabilising the whole of Asia, which is otherwise stable in many respects. The region is productive and is overcoming poverty in many countries, aside from under the barbaric regime in North Korea. However, there are a number of instabilities at a top level. India and China are not in the most productive phase of their relationship and, as has been mentioned, the same is true of Japan and China.
Those are dangers where I think we could have an impact. I venture to suggest cautiously that there may be things we could do to help, even if the United Kingdom’s influence is, in a general sense, relatively small. First, all the nations in the region need to moderate their language. I was looking at some of the language of the Japanese defence Minister, Onodera, which is not conducive to the likelihood of people talking to each other in more moderate terms. They also need to start to ratchet down the nationalistic, somewhat paranoid, descriptions of what is happening, which have a big impact on populations. All parties are showing renewed nationalism and there is a very strong case for seeing whether we, who have considerable experience in this area, might be able to assist in developing a hotline which would allow those who may come into conflict in those areas—particularly at sea—to deal with it. I can say at first hand that we took up this issue, as a nation, in the upper Persian Gulf. In a sense, that is obvious and mechanical, but it is entirely practical.
Secondly, would it not be sensible if the critique of China, which is very clear and has been expressed by most nations in the region, were thought through in a little more detail? It is as if China were completely unique. The Chinese may have gone further on declared procedures, but they are entitled to ask why they are the only people with zones of this kind about which any questions are asked at all. We should ask whether that is likely to be productive. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan is quite right to emphasise the differences this time, but there are wider histories and wider issues in which we might have a moderating effect.
Thirdly, all nations in the region must think more deeply about the offence caused by some of their leaders, particularly the genuinely distressing actions of the Japanese Prime Minister. It is distressing to see any Prime Minister visiting, honouring and sharing the history of notorious war criminals who perpetrated terrible crimes against the Chinese people. Were there to be an equivalent event in Europe, there would be an outcry. It would not be tolerated. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is 100% correct that it is right to raise this issue with friends in Japan, precisely because they are friends. I will put down for the record that, before he left, my noble friend Lord West told me that the Sixth Fleet has in fact vanished but only because it is now the Seventh Fleet.
Fourthly, we all know that this crisis and chronic dispute about a group of islands claimed by at least three nations needs to be dealt with. These uninhabited, uninhabitable rocks, known by different names in each of the three countries, are the prizes in this dispute. Perhaps this is because everybody understands they may anchor rights to gas, oil and fishery resources. China’s interest has plainly been awakened by the possibility of these assets coming into play.
Would the Minister consider whether the United Kingdom can offer a contribution here, even at the risk of potential rejection? The noble Lord, Lord Wilson, helpfully identified some things we could do, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, with whom I strongly agree.
A couple of our universities—this may be of particular interest to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, because I am going to talk about Cambridge—specialise in the legal analysis of and recommendations for borders and lines of demarcation. They have a remarkable history. I first saw this work at first hand in difficult circumstances in Africa, and I acknowledge that not all of the issues that were raised have yet been concluded, but we and, for that matter, Cambridge University have no interest in sovereignty issues and we have no axes to grind in the area. There is therefore a real possibility of soft diplomacy being employed in that kind of circumstance.
I think that we could offer to get into exercises which, while of course they would not lead to commitments to the United Nations on the part of those countries in accepting the results, could result in tensions being reduced when efforts were made. The breathing space is almost always welcomed at the United Nations because it allows for the exploration of many alternatives, and studies are usually valuable and instructive for whatever the final outcomes may be. I believe that that is a useful sort of soft power. It does give rise to diffusion, and even were it to be rejected, it would be seen as a sincere and serious offer in the region.
An impartial offer will carry the message that events in the East China Sea and the regional security issues matter enough to us, half a world away, for us to take a practical interest. I hope that our Government will do so.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Moynihan for calling this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and other noble Lords for their valuable contributions to it. I am grateful also for the context and detail provided by my noble friend Lady Falkner and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. I will not try not to repeat too much of the history and background that noble Lords have already heard.
The Asia Pacific region is home to the world’s second and third largest economies—China and Japan. In 2012, together they accounted for 20% of global GDP and their economies are heavily dependent on each other, with around 20% of Japan’s imports coming from China, while Japan is China’s biggest source of foreign investment. As my noble friend Lord Moynihan rightly pointed out, there are numerous opportunities for the UK in the region. The UK is therefore committed to supporting the continued economic growth of the region and promoting the regional security and stability which underlie that. This was illustrated by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister leading the largest ever delegation to China last month, which followed a similar trade visit to Japan in 2012 and the enormously successful state visit of their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan for Her Majesty the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in the same year.
The noble Lord, Lord Wilson, asked about the current state of the bilateral relationship with China. During the Prime Minister’s recent visit to China, Premier Li described the UK’s relationship with China as,
“one that is indispensable for both of us”.
We are committed to deepening our co-operation with China in the interests of shared prosperity and security and developing our understanding of each other’s values. The UK wants China to prosper because that is good for Britain, and we have much to offer the Chinese as well. There are many things that we can and need to do together as countries of global influence and as permanent members of the UN Security Council, from negotiations with Iran to counterterrorism and climate change. However, I will certainly take back the comments and suggestions of noble Lords, along with those of my noble friend Lady Falkner and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on the various ways in which the relationship could be broadened through the use of more soft power. I can inform my noble friend Lord Teverson that during his visit the Prime Minister raised concerns about the issue of ADIZs and underlined our wish for a reduction in regional tensions and for improved communications between the parties. He also underlined the UK’s support for the recent EU statement.
We want China to succeed economically in an interconnected and global market. The repercussions of any nation failing would be damaging to us here in the UK. We see plenty of opportunities for co-operation. As China grows and develops, it will pursue its interests more actively. That is natural and we will encourage China’s emergence as a responsible regional and global player. It is to be expected that China will develop its military capabilities. We welcome Chinese maritime activities such as its involvement with counterpiracy in the Horn of Africa and its growing role in international peacekeeping. We encourage similar activities across the board. We are concerned about aspects of China’s military development, most notably the lack of transparency, but we believe that we can best encourage change and enhance mutual understanding through engagement.
We acknowledge that others in the region have concerns about an increasingly self-confident China which they see as using its vast economic power and other forms of leverage to gain the upper hand in territorial disputes. We have seen this recently by the regional reaction to China’s establishment in November of the air defence identification zone over the East China Sea, the subject of today’s debate. I shall comment now on that specific issue. My noble friend Lord Moynihan asked about the UK’s view on the ADIZ. While the UK does not take a position on underlying sovereignty issues, we have a clear interest in maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight. The legitimate use of airspace is essential for security, stability and prosperity. Actions that bring, or appear to bring, these rights into question are not conducive to finding lasting solutions to the differences that exist in east Asia. The UK therefore fully supports the EU statement, which notes with concern China’s establishment of an East China Sea air defence identification zone. It heightens tension in the region and raises the risk of escalation. We have encouraged and will continue to encourage China and its neighbours to pursue through diplomatic means regional policies that ensure stability, diffuse tensions and resolve the dispute constructively without putting the freedom of navigation or commerce at risk. It is in no one’s interest that tensions escalate to a point of conflict and it is why it is for all countries in the region to take measures to avoid this conflict.
My noble friend Lord Teverson asked about the role for Europe in Asia. I fully agree that there is a role for Europe in Asia and the UK is working with other EU members to explore where the EU can make a difference, drawing on Europe’s experience and expertise on maritime issues and those relating to disaster relief. The EU hosted a seminar on maritime security with ASEAN in Jakarta last year. We recognise that other countries in the Asia-Pacific region are concerned that we may see further examples of assertive Chinese behaviour and we therefore urge all parties to work together to reduce tensions and to try to resolve these issues peacefully.
During his visit to China, the Prime Minister underlined our wish for improved communication for constructive engagement and for diffusing tension. I would urge, as I am sure noble Lords on all sides of the House would, that both China and Japan establish mechanisms to promote understanding and co-operation and to manage incidents. I take on board what we have heard today regarding how they need to move forward and go beyond a point where even ambassadors are not prepared to sit and discuss issues, as we saw on “Newsnight”.
We recognise that other countries have concerns that China might extend its ADIZ further, including into the South China Sea and Yellow Sea, resulting in heightened regional tensions. The South China Sea is of global importance, being a vital trade artery through which up to half of world trade passes. A crisis there would negatively impact on world trade and have a direct impact on UK prosperity and security interests. While we do not take a position on the underlying sovereignty disputes, we of course have a clear interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in that area. We have therefore encouraged all parties to try to resolve these matters in line with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and have encouraged efforts to make progress on the ASEAN-China Code of Conduct. We have offered our assistance in promoting confidence-building measures and in sharing maritime experience.
We regularly discuss foreign policy issues with the US—that point was raised by a number of noble Lords—and our discussions on areas of interest in Asia Pacific have included China’s ADIZ. We welcome the US rebalancing in the Asia Pacific region, which is in line with our own renewed engagement. In meetings between Assistant Secretary Russel, the Foreign Office and No. 10 earlier this week, views were exchanged on a wide range of Asia Pacific security issues, including the current tensions in North East Asia.
The Government are working increasingly closely with the US and other allies in the region in areas where we have common aims, such as cybersecurity, the South China Sea, North Korea, Burma and encouraging China to commit to rules on transparency and good governance. Our historical ties, including through the Commonwealth, membership of the five power defence arrangements, a garrison in Brunei, our membership of the EU and our strong trade and investment links, make us a very relevant player in the region in our own right and we continue to invest time and resources into building these relations.
We will continue to pursue an all-Asian policy, engaging constructively and strengthening relations with nations across the region. We urge all parties to strive to resolve issues peacefully so that all countries can benefit from the region’s continued prosperity and growth. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the UK remains a key partner for the region. I once again thank my noble friend for calling this debate and shedding light on what is an incredibly important issue.
House adjourned at 5.24 pm.