The Prime Minister outlined today how Britain’s role in the world is emerging stronger by the day, highlighting the new defence pact signed with Japan as well as being the first European nation to join CPTPP, the trans-Pacific trade agreement.

Rishi Sunak, who was the guest speaker at the London Defence Conference co-hosted with King’s College London, said: “The UK-Japan relationship is the strongest it’s ever been on defence and security. We are the only European country to have that level of cooperation with Japan.” 

Britain is also, he said, the first European nation to succeed to CPTPP – a trade partnership which will provide the bulk of future global growth.

Speaking about the realignment now taking place geopolitically, Sunak said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a huge catalyst to changing the security architecture of the world: “Just look at the support from Germany and Japan, Sweden and Finland joining NATO and the UK’s strengthened diplomatic ties around the world.”

What’s more, Sunak added: “We are going to out co-operate and out compete our adversaries… which is why we have invested heavily in building diplomatic ties in all three theatres: European, Atlantic and Indo-Pacific.”

Alongside this Pacific expansion, the UK remains one of the most committed members of NATO. In the question and answer session with Iain Martin, director of the LDC, the PM said the UK spends more than 20 other NATO countries combined. “We are one of a minuscule number of countries who actually spent 2% over the last decade.”

China’s economic power remains a risk, he added, which is why the UK has been decoupling from over-reliance on Chinese supply chains. 

And his message to those who do not want the disruption that this de-risking implies: “We can’t wish this problem away. We have to be alert to the risk. China poses the greatest state based threat to our economic security, that’s a fact.” 

Yet the UK needs to target the areas where these threats are a problem. “There are a limited number of very sensitive sectors of our economy: semiconductors, dual use technologies, quantum.” Sunak referred to the government’s recent decision to block the takeover of a Welsh semiconductor manufacturer by a Chinese company, citing national security.

The PM also had a message for President Putin: The West is not going away anytime soon, and Western allies would be supporting Ukraine for years to come. “The waiting it out strategy is not going to work. The only action is for them – the Russians – to withdraw.”

“Part of Russia’s strategy is to wait it out, people might tire, Western democracies might get bored and move on… We want to make it clear to Russia that support for Ukraine will continue for years to come.”  

Putin has made a great miscalculation, he said, and far from fragmenting allies, it has strengthened them.

Another high-level guest speaker at the conference was Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, who called on NATO allies – particularly on the eastern flank – to do more to strengthen their commitment towards fighting Russia. President Duda added that Poland – which has taken in 12 million of the 15 million refugees who have fled Ukraine – understood perfectly well that the cost would be higher, for everyone involved, if Ukraine lost the war.  

See below for more reports on the conference organised by the Reaction team.

Watch the 2023 London Defence Conference live here

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