‘Focussing on the Russian bear misses the tiger’: China poses a greater long-term threat to Britain than Russia and we must be prepared, warns First Sea Lord

  • China poses the biggest long-term threat to the UK, First Sea Lord has warned 
  • Russia’s Ukraine war is a ‘danger’ but cannot allow us to under-estimate Beijing
  • China’s economy is ten times Russia’s and its military budget four times the size 
  • ‘Focussing solely on the Russian bear missed the tiger,’ Admiral Sir Ben Key said

Britain must be prepared to face the long-term threat from China and cannot be distracted by Russia’s war in Ukraine, the First Sea Lord has warned.

Admiral Sir Ben Key, speaking to the Council on Geostrategy yesterday, acknowledged that Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion ‘represents a near and present danger to us’ and Britain ‘must respond’ to it to. 

But, he added, ‘focussing solely on the Russian bear risks missing the tiger,’ with Beijing posing a greater ‘long-term strategic challenge’ to the UK.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a ‘clear threat’ that the UK must deal with but it cannot ignore the ‘long-term challenge’ posed by China, the First Sea Lord has warned (file image)

China, Sir Ben noted, has a growing economy that is already ten times that of Russia and is spending four times as much as Putin on its military – $298billion in 2021.

That money is being spent on ‘developing perhaps the world’s largest navy,’ Sir Ben added, ‘coupled with a massive Coastguard and maritime militia.’

Warning of a ‘concerted effort by China to gain the upper hand across the board’, he also spoke of Beijing’s attempts at ‘covert theft, tech transfer, exploiting research, all to deliver information advantage.’

And while Russia’s economy is set to shrink as a result of Ukraine, China’s has been bolstered by Moscow flogging sanctioned oil to the Communist Party on the cheap.

‘China is indeed one of the great beneficiaries of this conflict,’ Sir Ben added.

‘If the West is learning lessons from Ukraine, we should be in no doubt so is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

‘And for us, having potentially overestimated some of Moscow’s military capabilities, we must be wary of underestimating those of Beijing.’

The CCP is currently fitting out its latest-generation aircraft carrier – the Fujian – which will rival the US Nimitz in size and feature launch catapults for its jets.

It has also spent years building military bases in the South China Sea in an attempt to assert territorial rights over one of the world’s most-valuable shipping lanes.

And fears are growing that Xi Jinping is planning to invade Taiwan, after the CCP threatened ‘forceful measures’ in response to rumours that US house speaker Nancy Pelosi may visit Taipei in August.

James Rogers, the Co-Founder and Director of Research of the Council on Geostrategy, told MailOnline: ‘As China grows in power, it will seek to engineer an international order which looks more like itself.

‘The prevailing international order – open and liberal – was constructed by countries such as the UK and US.

‘The international order China will seek to generate will be hierarchical, centred on China. 

‘In many respects, China is acting like an imperial power, as it attempts to centre itself geographically, with all routes leading to China.’

Sir Ben used his speech to call on the government to continue investing in the military – and in particular Britain’s navy – in order to deter Beijing.

Building partnership in Asia such as the AUKUS pact to provide Australia with new nuclear submarines, will also be key.

Admiral Sir Ben Key said Britain must ‘adapt to the geostrategic situation we find in front of us’, as Beijing become increasingly assertive

‘Our Chinese friends might argue that alliances… is something that weak countries do, but history shows that such thinking is flawed,’ he added.

‘The evidence shows it is those states who don’t build alliances which are the ones which ultimately fail.’

Underlining tensions in the region, Beijing hit out at the US today after one of its warships sailed down the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from the mainland.

America says such missions reinforce ‘freedom of navigation’, which states open oceans should be accessible to all under international law.

Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and the waters surrounding the island as its own.

China tried to paint Washington as a ‘a destroyer of peace’ after the latest mission, saying its ‘provocations and showboating’ are creating unnecessary risk.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command spokesman Colonel Shi Yi said forces are always ‘on high alert to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.’

On Tuesday, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Benfold ‘conducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit … through international waters’, the US Seventh Fleet said in a statement.

‘The ship transited through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,’ it added.

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