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AUKUS: Impact on Anglo-Chinese Relations

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 20 October 2021

Before we begin, I encourage hon. Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering or leaving the room. Daniel Kawczynski will move the motion.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the impact of the AUKUS pact on Anglo-Chinese relations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am pleased to have secured this debate on AUKUS, the new British naval alliance with Australia and the United States, which will play a pivotal role in maintaining peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

There is no doubt in my mind that both Russia and China are threats to the United Kingdom. Make no mistake: Russia and China are both grave threats to freedom, to the western world in particular and to true democracy in general. The discussion is not about whether they are a threat but about the type of threat they present and the degree to which they endanger us.

Russia’s threat is predominantly cyber, but China’s threat is much larger: it is multidimensional, complex, far reaching and interconnected. China’s threat is based in economics and logistics, including manufacturing, supply chain and minerals. We have spent 18 months suffering the reality of that, and we must now recalibrate our investment and trade policy in order not to be so over-dependent on China in the future.

I started asking questions of our own Government about the situation in the South China sea on 4 January 2016—nearly six years ago. I asked the Foreign Office—the then Foreign Secretary was Mr Hammond—and the reply came from Hugo Swire. I asked what the United Kingdom Government’s attitude was on the situation in the South China sea. This is the first time in my 16-year career that I pay tribute to the BBC, but having watched a BBC documentary on the situation in the South China sea, which very clearly highlighted the extraordinary situation in which China is stealing hundreds of atolls from neighbouring countries, pouring concrete on them and turning them into giant military installations, I asked the British Government what their view was. The answer came back:

“The UK takes no position on the sovereignty of the Spratly Islands or other disputed features in the South China Sea.”

That was a serious mistake by the Conservative Government at that time.

Under Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, we had a policy of maximum engagement with China in order to safeguard and protect the massive, multibillion pound investments that it was pouring into our country—conveniently overlooking the growing and increasing human rights abuses that were taking place in China and China’s nefarious conduct in the region.

Of course, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, we expect China to be a strong country, to have a strong military and to have a capability sufficient to defend her national interests. However, during the course of the debate, I will share with hon. Members the extent of China’s recent hostile activities towards her smaller, more vulnerable neighbours—activities that go beyond those UN Security Council responsibilities. China is starting to look like a large regional power attempting to bully and subjugate its neighbours. Who are those countries? Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. Remember those names and the significance of those countries to the United Kingdom, not only historically but from a trading perspective today—Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia.

As I have outlined, China has stolen hundreds of those atolls from each of those four nations, pouring concrete on to them, turning them into military outposts and trying to take control of the whole South China sea. Just think about the significance of that statement. We rightly admonish Russia about what it is doing in the Kerch strait, restricting the access of Ukrainian ships to the sea of Azov. That is a walk in the park compared with what is going on in the South China sea.

Let us not forget that 60% of global maritime trade goes through the South China sea—$5.3 trillion of trade passes through that waterway. China is attempting to take control of all of it and to restrict the movement of international shipping in order for China to have the confidence of stretching its empire that much further south, so being able to control the region that much better.

I pay tribute to our own Navy, which has been at the very forefront of pursuing freedom-of-navigation exercises through the South China sea. I dread to think what would have happened by now had the United Kingdom had not taken such a pivotal role in ensuring that our ships were at the forefront of protecting the right of passage through that waterway.

I want to come on to outline why I am concerned about China. Some people might accuse me of being anti-Chinese or slightly hysterical about the threat emanating from China, but let me give some evidence for why I think that China is becoming an increasing threat. I have already been warned by various Chinese publications here in the United Kingdom that I am on a watch list and that if I continue to speak out and scrutinise Anglo-Chinese relations, I will be the next Tory MP to be put on China’s sanctions list. If so, I will scrutinise China even more, because—I want the Chinese ambassador to know this—the British way is not to be bullied and intimidated.

We are all British parliamentarians, and we have a duty and responsibility in this House to challenge our own Government and our Government’s policy towards China in a sensible, pragmatic and democratic way. If this debate pushed me into being sanctioned, I for one will not relent from that ongoing scrutiny of my own Government and their conduct towards China.

I am impressed with the force of what my hon. Friend has said so far. As one of the seven parliamentarians who wears the badge of honour of having been sanctioned by the Chinese Government, we would be delighted to welcome him to our numbers and to present him physically with a badge for that extraordinary honour, which has been bestowed on us counterproductively by the Chinese Communist party.

I agree with everything my hon. Friend has said. He has not yet touched on the question of Taiwan. Filling in atolls with cement is a serious breach of international law and we should be concerned about it; the constant flying over by Chinese jets into Taiwanese airspace, which has accelerated recently, is a much more aggressive, bellicose and worrying act. Does he agree and will he mention that in his comments?

I was aware that my hon. Friend was one of those esteemed colleagues to have been sanctioned already by the Chinese Communist regime, and it would be an honour to serve alongside him with that accolade. Yes, of course I will be coming on to Taiwan. He anticipated that key issue, which I intend to raise. Some of us Conservative MPs enjoy regular meetings with the Taiwanese ambassador at his embassy, where we listen to Taiwan’s perspective, and I appreciate doing that.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the word “communist”. Of the 365 elected at the last election, I am the sole Conservative MP who was born in a communist country, so I know what communism is. I used to go back to communist Poland to see my beloved grandfather in the 1980s, when martial law was in place and General Jaruzelski—the Soviet puppet who was controlling Poland—was running the show, so I know what the communists are and I know what they are capable of. Let us not forget that under the veneer of China’s highly flourishing capitalist society, there beats the heart of a rigid communist politburo that seeks to control its own people in a way that is completely unacceptable, and is unimaginable here in the United Kingdom.

Yes, to answer my hon. Friend, the former Japanese ambassador came to my office to highlight to me personally the ongoing and increasing violations of Japanese airspace by many Chinese planes, deliberately invading that airspace and testing the Japanese resolve. My hon. Friend also highlighted Taiwan, and I will take a moment to pay tribute to the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. That lady has demonstrated a huge amount of courage, fortitude and bravery in how she has stood up for the people of Taiwan, and she is not prepared to be bullied by China. In terms of size, it is like comparing a mouse with a lion: Taiwan is tiny and has microscopic military resources compared with communist China, yet it is determined to maintain its independence and fulfil the wishes of the representatives who have been democratically elected by the Taiwanese people.

We must stand by the Taiwanese people. This is the equivalent of what was going on in central and eastern Europe under communism, and it was Margaret Thatcher coming to the Gdansk shipyards in 1987 and 1988 that gave the succour to Lech Wałęsa to carry on, despite all the odds that were stacked against him. He said that in a television interview: “The communists came this close to destroying Solidarity. We were about to give up, but it was the help and solidarity that came from Britain, particularly Margaret Thatcher, and the resources that were sent from Britain to help us in our struggle for freedom and democracy that gave us the will to carry on and ultimately bring communism down.” As my hon. Friends will know, when that domino effect of communist regimes crumbling started in 1989, it started in Warsaw, the city of my birth.

My hon. Friend the Minister is doing a splendid job in her new position at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—I watch her international trips and the statements that she makes, and I have every confidence in her. However, as a Minister in the Foreign Office, she will know that the Chinese have recently been shooting and killing Indian soldiers on their border with India. China is getting into an increasing number of border disputes with India, and of course, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), and others have been at the forefront of highlighting the suppression of the Uyghurs in western China.

From everything that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and his colleagues have said, I am sure that he will agree with me—he must intervene if he does not—that what is happening to the Uyghurs is equivalent to ethnic cleansing. The Chinese Communist Government are trying to ethnically cleanse millions of people from western China in order to be able to control that territory, and if we are going to turn a blind eye to that sort of activity—ethnic cleansing on an industrial scale—what is the point of our having stood up to Serbia and the other countries in 1991?

My hon. Friend is being very generous. The only thing I disagree with is that it is not just ethnic cleansing; it is genocide, and of course, this House has voted to acknowledge the genocide that is still going on in Xinjiang province against the Uyghur people. It is not just the Uyghur people, either: this has been happening against the Tibetans since 1959, and is starting to happen in Hong Kong as well. The Chinese Communist party has form and needs to be called out, so I am glad my hon. Friend is contributing to that today.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I was being rather contrite and measured in referring to the policy as ethnic cleansing. He is of course correct, and I will utilise his word: what is going on in western China is genocide.

I will repeat what our Government, the Prime Minister and others have said. I saw something in the media this week. The Prime Minister said we must not discount Chinese investment in our country. I understand we are in a precarious economic situation. I understand that it is tempting to accept tens or hundreds of billions of dollars from China, but, as I will come on to say, China has a 1,000-year strategy to control global economies, and we must not fall into the trap.

Again, I agree with my hon. Friend. I am old enough to remember the agreement that Margaret Thatcher signed in December 1984. In that meticulous agreement that we entered into with the Chinese, my understanding is that we did not have to give up all the territory, but we did it for one country, two systems, and China has completely trashed that agreement—not after 100 or 200 years, but just a few short decades—and it has been put in the bin. The most heartbreaking thing that I heard the other day was a young man from Hong Kong who said to me, “We have come to expect and we have acclimatised ourselves to smelling tear gas on our streets on a daily basis.” The Chinese intend to do everything possible to snuff out and destroy the embryonic stages of a democratic movement in Hong Kong. Yes, we have a responsibility to the Uyghurs and to our other partners in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which we will be joining, but—goodness me—we have no greater responsibility to anybody in that region than we do to the people of Hong Kong who have stood with us and fought with us for generations.

If an MP has the temerity to challenge the dangerous conduct of China, they will, as I have said, be put on a sanctions list. I am extremely pleased that Mr Speaker has now banned the Chinese ambassador from entering this House. It is extraordinary that the ambassador from a fellow permanent member of the United Nations Security Council cannot step into this building. I applaud the courage and bravery of our Speaker. It is intolerable for us to allow the Chinese ambassador into this building while hon. Friends such as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is put on the sanctions list and is threatened, bullied and intimidated. What signal would we send to the Chinese if we allowed the Chinese ambassador to come here and enjoy our receptions and debates, and have the privilege of being able to lobby Members of Parliament, when our own colleagues are being sanctioned?

I now come to AUKUS, which is the purpose of this debate.

Well, I am a politician, Mr Davies. You have to give me some leeway to give you a brief synopsis up front. Thank you for your patient indulgence.

With regard to AUKUS, we need to celebrate. I am having this debate because I want to send a copy of it to all of my members in Shrewsbury. I rang my association chairman—we have about 500 members in the Shrewsbury Conservative Association—and I have asked for a copy to be sent to all of my members because I think we ought to celebrate the signing of AUKUS. It is extraordinary how little coverage it has received in the press and that the United Kingdom is the only European country that has been asked to join this extraordinary military-naval pact with America and the United States of America.

Forgive me—Australia. I would describe AUKUS as historical allies joining forces again, reinforcing their military bonds, tempered over the heat of many conflicts. The USA, UK and Australia have come together to confront emerging threats. The three of us had to intervene during the second world war to prevent the Japanese empire causing chaos and instability in the region. Now again, I am afraid, those three countries have to come together, in advance of seeing the threat of the Chinese hurtling towards us and other important countries.

Although China was not named in the joint statement, the implication was clear in the opening paragraph:

“we resolve to deepen diplomatic, security and defense cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region”.

Artificial intelligence, quantum technology, cyber-warfare, long-range strike capabilities and a nuclear component are primary areas covered by the pact. It may be noted that in all those areas there is direct competition between China and the United States of America for supremacy.

One person who knew how to deal with the Chinese was the great Singapore statesman, Lee Kuan Yew. Many people told me ahead of this debate to listen again to that great man and how he managed to protect his tiny microstate of Singapore, despite all adversity and threats. I have been watching some of Lee Kuan Yew’s speeches, both in Singapore and in London during his many visits to our capital city. I would like to share with colleagues one thing he said that particularly struck me. He decried the British leaving Singapore in 1971. We had military bases there and he foresaw the dangers ahead of the British leaving.

Hon. Friends and colleagues will know that in 1971 we were going through a period of economic malaise and—how shall I put it?—a lack of self-belief and political courage, and introspection. That is why, under Ted Heath and Mr Wilson, we made those catastrophic mistakes of short-termism, yet again. Remember that the Chinese have a 1000-year strategy. Here there was short-termism, a lack of self-belief and a lack of understanding and appreciation of our reputation in the region from key allies. That led us to leave Singapore in 1971. I hope AUKUS is the prelude to a wider security pact with more countries, and potentially more negotiated British naval bases in countries in the region.

Let us take a moment to recognise and appreciate the extraordinary privilege and prestige that we have as the only European nation with a permanent naval base in the Arabian sea. The Minister will be very cognisant of that. That naval base in Bahrain plays a critical role in maintaining peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two protagonists in that region. Can you imagine, Mr Davies, what would happen in the Arabian gulf if the British did not have a presence in Bahrain? I hope that what we are doing in the Arabian gulf will be replicated in the Indo-Pacific region. AUKUS is the embryo—the prelude—to that.

Mr Davies, you will be pleased to know that I am coming towards the conclusion of my statement. I will refer briefly to the CPTPP. I campaigned for Brexit and I am very proud that my constituency of Shrewsbury voted for Brexit. Now that we have left the European Union, an organisation that is shrinking every day as a percentage of global population and output, we have the opportunity to join the CPTPP, a $9 trillion market in exactly the same region in which AUKUS will operate. It is an economic partnership of 14 countries that, combined, are much larger than the European Union and growing, rather than shrinking, like the European Union.

Let me read out the statement I prepared earlier about why we must now marry our military responsibilities in AUKUS with our forthcoming membership of the CPTPP, and how there must be a unique synergy in tying these two projects together. We can send countries all the arms and armaments we like, but it will mean nothing if China strangle them economically. No one can fly a war plane if they cannot afford the fuel to feed it. China is fighting an economic battle that requires an economic response.

As mentioned, we have ready allies in the region who are more than willing and able to provide support in countering the Chinese. Vietnam and Indonesia, in particular, have the capability to meet our economic needs and those of our allies, in the same way that China can. There are few, if any, restrictions on what countries such as Vietnam can do, relative to what China can do.

I do not know about hon. Members here, but I have very important, large institutions in Shrewsbury—I will not embarrass them now—both in the public and private sectors, who have approached me to say, “We are worried and concerned about our over-dependence on Chinese investment. They are pouring resources into our institutions and are slowly, but inextricably, trying to take control of them. What do we do, Mr Kawczynski?”

The answer to this is the CPTPP. I say to my constituents, “If you need investment from Asia or the far east, please be aware that we applied to join the CPTPP on 1 February 2021 and that negotiations started on 1 June. When we finally agree to be the first ever European country to join the CPTPP, then that free trade scenario will afford us and be the catalyst for a potential massive recalibration of the investments that we accept in this country, and in the exports and imports that we have with China versus the other 14 countries, in particular countries such as Vietnam.”

I would like to ask the Minister, what can the Chinese provide us with that the Vietnamese cannot? I would rather give my money to the Vietnamese, the Singaporeans, the Malaysians, the Indonesians, the Indians, the Japanese and the Australians. All these countries are friendly nations who have nothing but good intentions towards the United Kingdom. What is the purpose of continuing to pour money into China, with this massive dependency on imports from that country?

Finally, Mr Davies, may I make one important last point about Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean Territory? In 2018, the Foreign Office asked me to visit the British Indian Ocean Territory, a chain of approximately 30 or 40 islands in the middle of the Indian ocean. What I saw there was absolutely breathtaking and mind-boggling. I have never seen such vast naval and air force installations in my life. This is a critical base that has already been used for wars in the middle east, for supplies, logistics and all the rest of it. We have just entered into an AUKUS military alliance with America and Australia, and yet Mauritius is trying to take these islands from us through the United Nations.

I want hon. Members to know, and this is one of the reasons I keep tabling written parliamentary questions on this issue, that when we gave Mauritius her independence in 1965, it was made abundantly clear—I have read the treaty documents many times—Mauritius would have her independence but would not have control over the British Indian Ocean Territory, which is literally hundreds and hundreds of miles away from it. Hon. Members will know that the British Indian Ocean Territory is actually much closer to the Maldives than it is to Mauritius, yet Mauritius is taking us through every conceivable route at the United Nations to steal—I use that word deliberately—these islands from us. I will also use parliamentary privilege to say that I would not be surprised if the French were not using their influence with the Mauritius Government to facilitate this action, because who do we think would have a naval base in the British Indian Ocean Territory if it was not controlled by Britain but taken over by Mauritius?

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on an outstanding speech? Indeed, it is one of the most outstanding speeches that I have heard in this Chamber in my time in Parliament. I will just inform my hon. Friend and the House that when I was a shadow Foreign Office Minister I studied the issue of the Diego Garcian people. When we gave Mauritius independence, they were fully compensated—the families were fully compensated. The wise ones invested and now have houses; the unwise ones spent all the money. There was then a further round of compensation, because it was deemed that they had not been given enough, so they have been fully compensated for any familial ties that they might have had to Diego Garcia.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Not surprisingly, I completely concur with everything he has just stated. I would also say to him that in addition to the treaty—the Minister will know about this—we gave Mauritius £4 million as final settlement. Hon. Members will remember how much £4 million was in 1965. Mauritius took that money. Now, 50 years on, Mauritius is trying to overturn—

Order. Please can we bring it back to AUKUS? Also, we will have to begin to time-limit the few people we have to speak.

Sorry, forgive me—I had to get in the British Indian Ocean Territory, because I would argue that it is a critical part of the AUKUS strategy.

My final comment is an appeal to the Minister, which I have briefed her officials about. When she replies to me to say that we will never give up the British Indian Ocean Territory until we no longer have a military requirement for these islands, may I ask her to change her view? It should never be the case that we will hand these islands back, even in the very rare circumstances that there is no further military requirement for them. They are part and parcel of, and intrinsic to, our long-term strategy of AUKUS and bringing Britain back into the Indo-Pacific, to ensure that we use our position on the UN Security Council and our military might to help our new economic partners in the CPTPP and beyond to maintain peace and stability in this crucial part of the world.

I think we have three Members who wish to speak, who by my reckoning each have about eight or nine minutes each to speak, before 10.28 am.

Thank you, Mr Davies; it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, on a topic that I have some interest in. First, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate on the AUKUS path and on putting forward a very comprehensive summary to introduce it?

I am also very pleased to see the Minister in her place. I think she and I came into the House at the same time. I have watched her progress and I am very pleased to see her here; I think this may be her first Westminster Hall debate as a Minister. If it is, we are very pleased to have her here to answer our concerns, which I am very sure will happen.

I must say that when I first learned about the agreement that we have struck with our allies—which will see the three countries collaborate on new nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy and work together on areas such as cyber and artificial intelligence—I was pleased. Indeed, I was ecstatic. I am very supportive of and encouraged by that pact, and I put that on record when the Prime Minister came to the Chamber to make those comments.

I understand that this is not the work of a one-day or two-day event, but the culmination of much work contained in the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, which highlighted the need for the Indo-Pacific alignment. The tilt is necessary because, as our Prime Minister said, the region is critical to our economy, our security and our global ambition to support open societies, so the AUKUS pact is one we need. We cannot do this on our own, even though we have historical influence in the area. It is a partnership that involves Australia and the USA. Japan and other countries will no doubt also be a partner to that, as I think it is something we can grow and do more with.

Our Commonwealth sibling, Australia, has been clear about the need in this area. Our increased actions in the region have indicated our seriousness and our dedication to it. We have increased naval exercises in the South China sea over the past few years: HMS Albion conducted a US-style freedom of navigation operation by the Paracel islands in August 2018, and in early 2019 the Royal Navy conducted two joint military exercises with the US navy in the South China sea. I understand that more of those will take place in the next months. That co-operative working has been beneficial, and the AUKUS pact is a natural enhancement of those ties and relationships, so I totally and absolutely support it and see the benefits, not only for us, but for the world, in what we are doing.

As the Library briefing puts it:

“The AUKUS submarine deal is concerned solely with naval nuclear propulsion. It does not involve the transfer of nuclear weapons to Australia. As such, AUKUS does not contravene the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Nor does it contravene the or the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.”

The deal has been done in a way that enhances our relationship and our partnership. New Zealand, which is a signatory to that treaty and has a long-standing anti-nuclear stance, has already stated that Australia’s new nuclear submarines will not be permitted in its territorial waters, so let us be clear about what is happening and what we are trying to do.

The remit is clear and, to be completely honest, the reaction of the Chinese Government would suggest that, rather than there being nothing to see here, there is something to see and they are at pains to ensure that we do not see it ourselves. Chinese influence reaches across the world, as the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has outlined; it is not just here and in the far east, but everywhere—every country in Africa. I remember when I went to Kenya with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, some four or five years ago. Who was building the roads in Kenya that we drove on? China. It has built its relationship across every country; it goes in and makes partnerships with all the Governments, and then has access to all their mineral supplies and strips them of all those things. That is influence that we had, and those are important issues for us.

I have spoken about the atrocities against the Uyghurs in China, which both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) referred to, for many years. The first time I highlighted them was during a debate on International Human Rights Day, just before Christmas 2015. In the years since, the world has become more aware of the atrocities carried out against those people, and yet those actions have not ceased—if anything, they have become more barbaric.

The AUKUS pact is so important to combat the issues happening in China and the persecution of the Uyghurs—the word genocide has been used, but it is clear to me that ethnic cleansing has taken place against them, and every person here has spoken on that in past debates. Christians are also persecuted in China, and there are examples of churches burned or demolished, people put in prison for their beliefs or denied access to jobs, education and health. We have also spoken about the Falun Gong in many debates. They are a people with a specific religious belief—a very gentle people, but a people who have suffered commercial harvesting of organs among their people. Again, that report was made here some time ago in London, condemning China in the eyes of the world for what it has done.

Those things concern us greatly and make us all the more aware of what is taking place and the need to underline the vital importance of the AUKUS pact. China is a nation that sneers at our belief system; they will hold themselves only to their own standards, as if they are the only ones that really matter—as if the rest of the world does not have standards. Well, yes we do, and our standards are much better than what they have—that is a fact. They dare to say that what we are doing is not acceptable.

The outcome of this is that we are feeling the impact of China’s economic influence. What the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said about the price of containers is really important. This stuff is coming to Northern Ireland and coming to the UK; I can tell hon. Members from the experience of my own constituents that a container of goods from China that used to cost £3,000 now costs £15,000. It is time for the world to look elsewhere for the products they buy. The AUKUS pact is so important because it underlines these issues for us.

As the hon. Member said, I fully support Taiwan; again, the AUKUS pact will also address this issue. I read in the paper that the USA is to supply 60 F-16 fighters to Taiwan, which has asked for them as a matter of urgency. It is time these things were in place and that our support for Taiwan was on record—our military manoeuvres will be part of that as well. Today’s paper suggested that the pension funds should look at other ways of investing their money—not in Chinese properties or businesses but in other companies that are not involved—so there are lots of things we can do.

Today’s debate is about the AUKUS pact. I finish with this. How do we deal with this? Do we back off and say that we accept the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, the Christians or the Falun Gong, if China will play nice with us again? Will we look the other way if they ask us to? Will we dissolve our pact with like-minded allies? The answer, quite simply, is no; that can never happen. It will never happen. We must build our relationships, but on reasonable terms, and we will not be bullied. I welcome the AUKUS pact and this debate today. I welcome the message it sends. I support the Government, the Prime Minister and the Minister here today on this particular journey, and I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for bringing forward this debate.

Thank you, Mr Davies, for allowing me to take part in this debate. I would like to thank the Minister; she and I have not always agreed on everything, but we have moved on, and I am glad to see her here. I give sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski); his was one of the highest-quality speeches that I have heard in this Chamber. This is an incredibly important debate, and I am sorry that it is so thinly attended.

You have given me about six minutes, Mr Davies, so I will motor on, but I want to make one or two important points that were not in my speech, but that arise from what my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said. Perhaps the most important thing he said was that now that we have freed ourselves from the straitjacket of European Union trading arrangements, we need to participate fully in the Indo-Pacific tilt and its trading arrangements. He is quite right that it is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. It is certainly growing much faster than the European Union, which is, if anything, retrenching in terms of percentage of world GDP; he is 100% right on that. I hope we succeed in our CPTPP negotiations. He is also 100% right to talk about naval bases. Ironically, that is exactly what the Chinese are doing; they are expanding their naval bases those in Sri Lanka and Djibouti being just two examples. China is doing exactly what he urges us to do. At Diego Garcia and Guam there are two very significant American bases, which will be maintained at full strength.

My hon. Friend is also right to say that we should reduce our dependency on Chinese investment in this country. Unprecedentedly in my 29-year parliamentary career, I have called for an urgent question. It is on the Chinese purchase of Newport Wafer Fab. It makes our highly sophisticated microchips, which are extremely difficult to make; we have some of the world’s best technology, and we are selling it to the Chinese. These microchips are the basis of every piece of electronic equipment. It was crazy to allow this, and I still appeal to the Minister to look at this again, because it was not very sensible.

I have been actively engaged with members of the Chinese Government at the most senior levels for the last 20 years or so. I am also deputy chairman of the all-party parliamentary China group, so I can claim to have some insight into the Chinese psychology. What one really needs to look into is: what is the psychology driving China when it takes an action? How will it react to this trilateral security pact? Since 2010, the relationship between the UK and China has been pragmatic and often mutually beneficial. For example, the UK was the first western nation to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It is still one of the largest foreign countries trading renminbi. I think we have to be pragmatic. I do not think we should cut off our trade with China; I just think we should diversify it.

I totally agree with Members who have mentioned the serious human rights violations in China, which we in the UK abhor and rightly express our concerns about directly with China. That does not mean that we should not be friends with the Chinese on a people-to-people level; nor should it prevent our Governments from having responsible dialogue. China is too big and strategically important not to engage with. The message I want to leave this House with is that if we stop engaging with China, we stop having any influence with it. It is absolutely essential to engage, and we have done throughout history. We have engaged with people whom we do not like and do not approve of. We do not approve of their human rights violations, but we still engage with them. That is what we ought to be doing with the Chinese.

The People’s Republic is extremely strategic and long-term in its thinking—as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, it has a 1,000-year strategy. When it sets out to achieve something, it invariably does. I would like my hon. Friend to focus on this line: while it might protest about AUKUS publicly, privately it will respect the fact that the west is standing up to its imperial ambitions. There is no doubt that China wants to become the dominant superpower in the world in regards to political, economic and military influence. We must accept that, but that does not mean we should stop dealing with it. We need to find a sensible way to work with China.

The Chinese are spending huge amounts of money on upgrading their submarine, space and ballistic missile capabilities. According to the Financial Times, in August they tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, apparently to the surprise of the US and western intelligence. Why it was a surprise, I do not know, because we have known for several years that they have been trying to develop these weapons. Such demonstrations show the advanced capabilities of China’s modernised military.

We have witnessed the deterioration in Australian-Chinese relations and the bullying attitude to Australia over trade, which, of course, has spurred Australia on to spend a significant amount of its GDP upgrading its submarine capability to a nuclear-powered capability, so that it can spend more time at sea, hopefully undetected.

I fully welcome the AUKUS pact. I think it is the right thing to do. Hopefully, the UK as well as the US will take part in the production and technology of those submarines. AUKUS has been, to many, a bold step. We are pushing our global Britain credentials with a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region. Importantly, as my hon. Friend says, we are working closely with our allies—something talked about in the integrated review. He mentioned the number of countries in the CPTPP partnership. One important country he did not mention, and which I would like to mention on the record, is South Korea. We have a trading agreement, and a good relationship, with it. It is one of those countries north of the South China sea that is also troubled by Chinese incursion.

There are still many areas that require productive and sensible China-Anglo dialogue. COP26 is an important milestone for the future of the UK’s climate change agenda and ambition. The UK produces around 1.1% of the world’s emissions, whereas China emits around 28% and accounts for almost two thirds of the growth in emissions since 2000. Clearly, we can set a good example to other countries to decarbonise more quickly and make a real difference to climate change, but we need alliances with other countries, so that they can do the same. We need China to come on board with that agenda. Any fallout over AUKUS will have consequences for other matters, as I have demonstrated with COP26, but I would like to think that it is of benefit to both the UK and China to continue with a constructive dialogue.

While we will always have our differences, and I do not hesitate to articulate our views vociferously to the Chinese when I talk to them, particularly over human rights, overall it is in both sides’ interests to have a realistic but frank dialogue in the future. The idea of breaking off all dialogue with China, as some would advocate, is simply cutting off our nose to spite our face. Worse still, as I have said, we would lose the chance to influence Chinese thinking on issues such as climate change.

This has been an important debate. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to take something from it: that while we want to stand up to China, we want to have a dialogue with it; that its human rights activities are unacceptable; and that we should start to reduce our reliance on Chinese investment.

Thank you very much, Mr Davies. This is my first Westminster Hall debate, and is one of the very few debates in which I have spoken since I was elected to Parliament in December 2019, because I am a PMP: a pandemic Member of Parliament. To concur with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), it is great to see the Minister in her place, and I congratulate her on having one of the most important jobs in Government. It is also great to see Opposition Members here.

I will start by responding briefly to a few points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), before making a short speech—in brevity, there is wit. Having lived in China for over a decade, I always find it slightly misguided to put Russia and China in the same category, but that has become a habit in western rhetoric in recent years. When one is on the ground in each of those countries, one sees very different dynamics in play. In China, there is a real belief that today can be better than yesterday, and that tomorrow will be even better. On a personal level, many of the values of its people can be very similar to ours. Parents there want the best for their kids, which is why we have around 200,000 students from China in the UK. There is a fixation on prosperity over everything else—one does not always get that in Russia.

There was a lot of chat about threats from China, but there is a huge amount of opportunity to be gained from working and collaborating closely with China in a whole host of areas—for example, on climate change, COP26 and what comes after it. Unlike many of my Conservative hon. Friends, I have not given up on China yet. Like my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), I still think we can influence China’s direction. However, we will not do so if we stand on the sidelines, hector and use an overly hawkish tone.

The reality of the 20th century was that the United States existed and one had to work with it; one could not just ignore the United States and operate with Canada, Mexico or whoever else. The same applies to China in the 21st century. We should closely navigate a balance between the opportunities and the threats in this bilateral relationship.

A point was made about China’s diplomacy with different countries and how countries have been pushing back. There is truth in what my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, but it is more of a mixed bag. Developing countries across the belt and road, for example, have quite positive views of China’s impact on them. I call on our Chinese counterparts to work a bit harder on the diplomatic front, because the wolf warrior diplomacy that we have seen over the last two years is not helpful when it comes to trying to have—to borrow a Chinese phrase—a harmonious relationship.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham referred to China as a communist country, but anyone who has studied China, and wannabe Sinologists like me, often wonder whether it is. Is it communist, Confucianist, or more Marxist than Leninist? On China’s Leninism, my hon. Friend said something that chimed with me when he spoke of the Politburo and its influence on society. There is an argument that Leninism, along with state capitalism, might explain China better than communism or any other label.

Lastly, I want to respond to my hon. Friend’s fantastic point about Lee Kuan Yew, in Singapore. What the west needs is its own version of Lee Kuan Yew. He was one of the most successful politicians of the last century, from any country, and was able to lead Singapore—a country of between 5 million and 7 million people—I am looking over at the officials for the exact figure; perhaps they can get it from Wikipedia. Singapore has done a fantastic job of navigating relations between the east and west, and there is much to learn from that.

My daughter is half Chinese and half Ulster Scots—I am looking at the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—as her father is from the lovely county of Antrim. That is a very special mixture. China does not always sneer at the west, to use the hon. Member’s words; in fact, part of its success over the last 30 or 40 years is that it has learned so much from us. That is why it has sent hundreds of thousands of students to the west, and why its cityscapes can look so similar to those in the United States. The problem sometimes is that the US and China are so similar: they both want to be No. 1. They want to compete with one another; their people are very ambitious. There is much to learn from both the east and west, and much to gain from China and the UK working closely together.

We can see that from the members of the Chinese diaspora living in the United Kingdom. They are among the highest-performing students at primary school, secondary school and university. They have some of the highest incomes of any ethnic group, and some of the lowest levels of mental illness and crime, when we compare them to many countries with recorded labels. Those on the eastern and western fronts can learn from each other, politically and culturally.

I am conscious that I have roughly one minute left, Mr Davies. We need to be cautious about using words such as “adversary”, because I do not think that China has previously taken the UK to be an adversary. It has not seen us as the enemy, and I say that having lived there for 13 years. The Chinese people’s opinion and perspective of the UK is that it is among the best of the 200 countries around the world. Looking at the British Council statistics from last year, only France and Germany usually outshine us. There is an awful amount of good will towards us from the Chinese people, and we should not obfuscate that. We should be cautious about the words we use.

I will close on the issue of Sinophobia. I am cautious about AUKUS. It is an interesting development, and the jury is still out on the extent to which it could feed into a security dilemma or bring more peace to the region. From the UK perspective, my worry is that the increasing narrative vis-à-vis China—one of negativity—is having an adverse impact on Chinese, east Asian and south-east Asian communities in our country. Thank you very much for the time today, Mr Davies. I look forward to following up with colleagues after the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. As this is the first time I have spoken in Parliament since the tragic and senseless loss of our parliamentary colleague, Sir David Amess, I wish to put on record my own deep personal sorrow and condolences to his family for his loss.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing the debate. It is an important issue, and there is no doubt about his passion for the subject and for defending the AUKUS deal. There is also no doubt about his clear and persistent disdain for the EU, which came through very strongly in his words. The hon. Gentleman made some very important points about the behaviour of China that I agree with, particularly on its human rights record. Before I get to the substance of my speech, I would say that nobody should ever be bullied or intimidated about speaking out on these issues. That is just not acceptable under any circumstances.

AUKUS is directed against an increasingly aggressive China, but it has had the short-term effect of triggering one of the worst inter-ally crises in living memory. The fallout with France that ensued in the aftermath of the AUKUS deal announcement only plays into the hands of the Chinese. The French Foreign Minister was quoted as saying that the UK was engaging in its usual opportunism, which was why they did not recall the UK ambassador alongside the US and Australian ambassadors.

Maintaining unity with European allies and demonstrating military co-operation are not mutually exclusive. The French should have been involved at each and every stage of this pact’s development even if, ultimately, they would not play a leading role. This UK Government have squandered unity with key European allies who have existing, established presences in the Indo-Pacific area—namely the French—just for membership in this pact.

Common challenges are better faced when countries can trust each other, and that has never been more pertinent than in this case. Diplomatic duplicity and misleading allies is foolish at any time, and cannot contain China—if that is indeed the objective of the UK Government, apart from burning diplomatic bridges between the UK and France by giving Australia access to sensitive technology in the form of nuclear-powered submarines. I must say that our view, unlike that of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), is that this is tacitly encouraging nuclear proliferation, which we in the Scottish National party are morally, economically, environmentally and strategically against.

Despite the passionate defence from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, the AUKUS pact is indicative of UK fears that its status has diminished and is threatened by China. Better decisions will be made here in Westminster only when the UK embraces the fact that it is a middle power. Reluctance to accept that is leading to all kinds of fallout, as we have seen played out on the world stage.

I would question what the hon. Gentleman says about nuclear proliferation. If these submarines were going to carry nuclear weapons, he would possibly have a case, but these are only nuclear-powered submarines, and nuclear power is a relatively well-known technology that is certainly not covered by the treaties.

The hon. Gentleman would make that point, and that would be his defence; I would expect him to do that. However, the fact is that there will be nuclear weapons—nuclear-powered submarines—patrolling as a result of the deal. That is a matter of fact.

Australia has been under pressure since its Prime Minister called for an independent investigation into the origins of covid-19 in China. As we have heard, China has already imposed huge tariffs and restrictions on Australian exports, including wine, beef and barley, and banned coal imports outright. However, that Chinese aggression abroad is only matched by its aggression at home. There have been deadly skirmishes on the Indo-Chinese border. There is the appalling genocidal treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, the ongoing militarisation of the South China sea, military aircraft incursions into Taiwanese airspace, the widespread persecution of the Christians and the Falun Gong, and increased intimidation of the groups in inner Mongolia and Tibet. China has also trashed the Sino-British agreement, and stripped away residual rights of Hongkongers.

In part, this deal seems to message that the international community will not allow aggressive behaviour to go unchecked. Unfortunately, in reality, the posture of this Tory Government towards China remains ambiguous. Although China is described as a “systemic competitor” in this year’s integrated review, there have been several statements confirming that the UK does not want diplomatic tensions to undermine economic relations with Beijing, and that this is merely a war of words.

For instance, the Deputy Prime Minister stated in a leaked message to civil servants that the UK

“ought to be trading liberally around the world”,

regardless of whether our commercial partners comply with human rights standards. That was reiterated by the Foreign Secretary when questioned on this very leak at the recent Tory party conference. Perhaps the Minister might want to clarify her own view.

For the time being, it appears that UK-China relations will be binary and played out on two different levels—one diplomatic and the other economic. China regards the AUKUS pact and in many ways the phrase global Britain as confirmation of the UK standing on the side of the United States in a new cold war between Washington and Beijing. China also believes that a declining Britain does not have the capabilities to become an influential player in the Indo-Pacific region. Some have argued that the UK role in this alliance, in particular, is merely that of a third wheel. There are questions about whether this lack of meaningfulness is worth the provocation it has caused.

If this is an attempt by the UK to forge a meaningful security role post-Brexit, it is not that. More effort should be made to begin talks of a UK-EU defence and security deal. It underlines the reality that, after promises of taking control, the UK’s foreign and security policy is now ultimately decided in Washington.

I must pick the hon. Gentleman up on the important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). Those submarines are powered by nuclear power; they do not have nuclear weapons on them. Bearing in mind that the hon. Gentleman said how strongly the SNP thinks about reducing carbon, surely it is more appropriate to have submarines powered by nuclear rather than diesel. Does he not understand that?

I was going to before I took the intervention, Mr Davies. I will move as swiftly as I can towards the conclusion of my comments. The fact is that using nuclear power anywhere—on a submarine or elsewhere—means there is residual environmental waste that will go on for many half-lives. To have nuclear-powered submarines patrolling is not a solution to an environmental issue. That is a preposterous position.

The UK remains outside the Quad and the ongoing stately voyage of HMS Queen Elizabeth in the South China sea is more symbolic than substantive. The deployment has been noted for not carrying enough aircraft and for depending on US and Dutch escort vessels.

There are still questions to be answered about what the UK will get out of the partnership. The UK is clearly not going to be building the submarines after the mess it made of the latest Astute class hunter-killer boats that it cannot even scrap. That comes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. It cannot even scrap the nuclear subs that we see as rusting hulks left to degrade in the water at Rosyth.

There have been vague references to wider co-operation in areas such as artificial intelligence, but the only specific programmes mentioned, such as those to supply the Australians with Tomahawks, joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, and long-range anti-ship missiles, concern American weapons systems. Perhaps the Minister can detail what is actually agreed.

The French Foreign Minister has already suggested that the UK is just the fifth wheel on the carriage. More broadly, the main issue is what this co-operation will do. Will it impede China’s intentions in the regions? A little perhaps, but not significantly. There was not much in terms of strategic commitments. Instead, there were lots of theatrics, a statement of intent and a promise of new submarines in 20 years’ time. That is no substitute for a joined-up, long-term strategy, decided between the US, UK, the EU and other like-minded partners. China’s long-term challenge will not be met by submarines alone.

Finally, it is right to be concerned about the ability to engage China on climate change. It is still unclear whether Xi Jinping will attend COP26. It would be a great deficit if he were not there because of decisions made at Westminster. Planetary health cannot suffer as a result of this.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies. I would also like to thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this important debate on a crucial matter.

Hon. Members will recognise that we live in an increasingly uncertain world. Liberal democracy is no longer the only show in town. In fact, a study for the University of Gothenburg showed that for the first time since 2001, democracies are outnumbered by authoritarian regimes. That was before the coup in Burma and the Taliban’s advances in Afghanistan.

We are duty bound to respond to the world as it is, not how we would like it to be. The UK and its allies therefore need to wise up, not to provoke and inflame tensions, but to deter aggressive and bellicose behaviour that threatens British interests and those of our allies and our liberal democratic values.

It is in that spirit that Labour Front Benchers welcome AUKUS and its increased defence co-operation with our allies. Australia and the US are two of our closest security partners, and sharing resources and intelligence and co-ordinating with democratic allies should always make Britain safer. However, this partnership will only make Britain safer if the UK Government enter into the agreement with a view to AUKUS complementing the defence and security responsibilities we already share with a large number of our other allies. The Labour party supports AUKUS, but we must be absolutely clear that it should not create a perception that we are turning our backs on our other democratic partners and allies. The UK Government must therefore make clear to the other two members of the Five Eyes partnership, Canada and New Zealand, that we value those relationships, and that AUKUS will enhance, rather than diminish, the work of the Five Eyes.

Even more critically, we must re-assert our unwavering commitment to NATO and the European security partnerships that are of such fundamental importance to the security of the British people. It was therefore troubling to see the way in which AUKUS was announced: in a cack-handed manner, without our European partners being properly informed or consulted. It seems that we disposed with the diplomatic norms that are expected of a close ally. The conduct around the deal has caused considerable damage to relations with France, much of which should have been foreseen and could have been avoided. Diplomatic rows that allow NATO to be weakened do not serve our interests, but play directly into the hands of others. France is a crucial NATO ally: for example, British and French soldiers are currently serving side by side in Mali to counter terrorism and support UN peacekeeping. The world is crying out for the UK to get back to its long-established role as an alliance builder, yet for every relationship this Conservative Government try to strengthen, they tend to damage another. This is not the way to go about international relations, or to run a proud and influential country such as ours.

To be clear, it is the Labour party’s view that it absolutely makes sense to develop our political and economic ties in the Indo-Pacific. We support building deeper partnerships across the region, particularly with its democratic Governments, but this Government are tilting—or, more accurately, lurching—because they are unbalanced, because they lack the anchor of a strong and effective relationship with Europe. While the UK lacks that anchor, we continue to risk the threat of increasingly powerful headwinds blowing us off course. It is therefore critical that this AUKUS arrangement does not mean resources being redirected from Europe to the Indo-Pacific, and that it strengthens our NATO alliance and other strategic partnerships.

The Government must stop setting up false binaries. We need an alliance-based foreign policy that strengthens our ties with Europe, our ties with the democratic countries of the Indo-Pacific, and the transatlantic relationship. It is not either/or that is the basis of a successful alliance-based foreign policy, but both/and. Can the Minister make a firm commitment today that her Government will maintain that same level of resources and engagement with NATO in the decades ahead? Can she also be clear about how she intends to rebuild those critical relationships, most notably with France?

With the AUKUS partnership going ahead, it is of course vital that Britain gets its fair share of the economic benefits. Jobs and investment simply must come to the UK, and the Government must put the interests of British workers front and centre during this 18-month proposal period. Will the Minister outline how in the eyes of her Government, UK businesses, communities and workers stand to benefit from the AUKUS programme in tangible terms?

Given the sensitivities involved in sharing nuclear technology, it is important for the deal to be pursued in a way that is consistent with all our international obligations. The Government must ensure that AUKUS meets all our commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and adheres to relevant International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Clearly, we recognise that Australia has no intention whatever to acquire nuclear weapons, nor does AUKUS enable that in any way. However, questions have been asked about the use of highly enriched uranium as a component of the deal, because of the precedent that might be set that other countries might seek to take advantage of, given that UK and US nuclear submarines operate using such uranium. Will the Minister therefore confirm whether the intention is to use a submarine design that requires highly enriched uranium and, if so, whether that material will be supplied from the UK?

More broadly, AUKUS should be matched by stronger efforts to support nuclear non-proliferation arms control and multilateral disarmament. The global non-proliferation architecture has come under increasing strain in recent years. Ministers have been bystanders, publicly doing and saying nothing. Before, the UK was a leader of global efforts to promote multilateral disarmament. It is high time for us to rediscover leadership of the issue.

AUKUS has been billed as wider co-operation between the UK, the US and Australia beyond the collaboration on submarines, but there has been precious little detail about what that will involve. How do the Government intend to make the partnership meaningful in other areas, in particular on broader technological co-operation?

The wider context of the agreement is the threat to an open and secure Asia-Pacific region. China’s recent actions pose risks to UK interests and to our allies. China’s increasingly aggressive stance threatens a stable trading environment, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is important to address those risks. We have seen increased tension in the region, threats to freedom of navigation, efforts to undermine international law in the South China sea and completely unreasonable economic and diplomatic pressure applied to Australia simply for calling for an international inquiry into the origins of covid-19.

China’s aggression towards Taiwan is deeply troubling. We have seen a big increase in the number of Chinese fighter jets and bombers buzzing Taiwan’s air defence identification zone in a clear attempt to intimidate Taiwan’s democratically elected leaders. The country in the region that is destabilising the status quo is China—let us be in no doubt about that—so China’s calls about other countries destabilising the status quo are deeply ironic. Those moves raise tension in the region and create the risk of an accident or miscalculation that could have dire consequences. The UK Government and our allies need to make it clear to the Chinese Government that such actions are dangerous and counterproductive.

AUKUS is not about provoking China, but about deepening co-operation between like-minded allies who share a commitment to each other’s security and a vision of a peaceful and open Indo-Pacific region. After the Government’s failed “golden era” approach, the UK must now ensure that the new arrangement increases rather than decreases our ability to influence China. The Labour party will take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach, seeking to co-operate with China where we can on issues such as climate change and global health, while standing firm in defence of human rights, freedom and security. On security, we believe that AUKUS in tandem with NATO can play an important role in rebalancing a relationship that, under consecutive Conservative Governments, became far too weighted in favour of Beijing, to the detriment of the British people.

Before I call the Minister, may I mention that David Amess was an esteemed member of the Panel of Chairs, who chaired these sorts of debates? He is sadly missed and fondly remembered by all members of the panel—by all of us as friends. I wanted to put that on the record.

Thank you, Mr Davies. You are absolutely right that David Amess will be sorely missed by everyone in the House. I, too, put on the record my sincerest condolences to his family. We are thinking of them at this really difficult time.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing the debate. I am also grateful to Members across the House for this wide-ranging discussion on such an important matter.

I will pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East (Mark Logan), whose first time it is in Westminster Hall. This is my first time in Westminster Hall for about three years—I think I secured a debate on a very different subject, which I had to have cancelled when I was appointed to the Whips Office. As I say, it has been a wide-ranging debate, and I want to be clear at the outset that AUKUS will help to support peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. It is not aimed at any one country. As many Members have mentioned, the defence and security relationship between the UK and Australia, as with the United States, is long-standing. Both are trusted allies with whom we share a vision for the world. For more than 70 years we have worked together, along with other allies, to protect our shared values and to promote security and prosperity. The formation of AUKUS recommits us to that vision.

A number of Members have mentioned the non-proliferation treaty, and there have been some claims that AUKUS will lead to nuclear proliferation, undermining the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and fuelling an arms race. I can assure hon. Members that AUKUS will do no such thing. The programme will be consistent with our international obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which we, like the US, take extremely seriously. Australia remains committed to its obligations as a non-nuclear weapons state, including to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Australia has impeccable non-proliferation credentials, and it has made it clear that it does not and will not seek to procure or manufacture nuclear weapons. Australia is committed to the highest safeguarding standards, to ensure the safety and security of nuclear material and technology.

I turn to the integrated review and the wider Indo-Pacific tilt. The integrated review underlined the UK’s commitment to diplomatic security and economic engagement across the Indo-Pacific region. By 2030, the Indo-Pacific will represent more than 40% of global GDP. I returned at the weekend from a tour of the Philippines, Singapore and Japan, in my first visit to the region as Minister for Asia. I saw at first hand the enthusiasm of our Indo-Pacific partners for greater UK engagement. The deployment of the UK carrier strike group is an embodiment of our commitment to the region’s security, and I had the pleasure of visiting HMS Queen Elizabeth in Singapore. I eventually got on board the aircraft carrier. I remember visiting it when it was being built in Scotland, I think in late 2015—I had to go to Singapore to get back on to the aircraft carrier. I was able to discuss our commitment to the region’s security with Commodore Steve Moorhouse, the commander of the carrier strike group.

We have recently become a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and applied to join CPTPP, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned. CPTTP membership is a key part of the Government’s plan to position the UK at the centre of a network of modern free trade deals that supports jobs and drives economic growth. AUKUS is further demonstration of our long-term commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, helping to build closer and deeper partnerships. It is on that basis that we will have further collaboration, which will help to enhance our joint capabilities and operations. The UK has a range of enduring security interests in the Indo-Pacific and many important defence relationships, and AUKUS will supplement them.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) mentioned NATO. The UK and US are already leading members of NATO, the world’s most important defence alliance. The work done by AUKUS will support our shared goals in new regions. AUKUS is good for NATO and good for Euro-Atlantic security. As the Prime Minister said in his statement to the House, the UK’s commitment to NATO is “absolutely unshakeable”. That in no way affects our commitment to European security or to NATO.

A number of Members mentioned Taiwan and the recent tensions in the Taiwan strait.

I am struggling for time, as I need to give my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham time at the end.

We are clear that the numerous Chinese military flights in recent weeks near Taiwan are not conducive to peace and stability in the region. We need a peaceful resolution through constructive dialogue by the people on both sides of the Taiwan strait. We have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan but a strong unofficial relationship based on dynamic commercial, education and cultural ties. We support Taiwan’s participation in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite. We are also committed to defending the UN convention on the law of the sea in the South China sea. In September 2020, my predecessor set out our legal analysis on the South China sea in full to Parliament for the first time. We objected to Chinese claims that we consider inconsistent with UNCLOS, which we have reiterated in subsequent statements.

I will turn briefly to UK-France relations, which was mentioned by both Front-Bench speakers. We have a long-standing security and defence relationship with France. We are close NATO allies and have an excellent history of operational co-operation. The Defence Secretary spoke to his French counterpart before the announcement. We will continue to consult each other daily on international defence and security arrangements.

Turning to China, as the integrated review made clear, China’s increasing power and international assertiveness is likely to be the most significant geopolitical factor of the 2020s. As G20 members with permanent seats on the UN Security Council, we must work together, from increasing trade and rebuilding the global economy to co-operation in science innovation. Co-operation with China will be vital to tackle transnational challenges, particularly climate change and biodiversity loss. But as we engage, we will not sacrifice our values or national security. China is an authoritarian state with different values from the UK. The Government consistently take action to hold China to its international obligations and commitments, including responding robustly to its human rights violations in Xinjiang and its breach of the Sino-British joint declaration in Hong Kong. We will continue to speak and take action to promote our values and protect our national security. Working with international partners, we have imposed sanctions in respect of Xinjiang and led joint action at the United Nations, while continuing to build our domestic resilience.

I am conscious of time, as I want to give my hon. Friend a couple of minutes to wind up. AUKUS opens a new chapter in Britain’s friendship with one of our closest allies. The project will help safeguard the security of the Indo-Pacific, and make the world a safer place.

I thank the Minister for her comments. Since 2014, China has launched more submarines, warships, major amphibious vessels and auxiliaries than the total number of ships currently serving in the navies of the UK, Germany, India, Spain and Taiwan combined. France lost out in the initial setting up of AUKUS simply because it had the wrong commercial solution for Australia and the United Kingdom had the right one.

I am grateful to hon. Members who have participated. My only concern is that some Opposition parties appear, certainly in my eyes, to be promoting French commercial interests rather than those of the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the impact of the AUKUS pact on Anglo-Chinese Relations.