Why Britain must counter the revisionists.

This article was contributed to the UK Defence Journal by James Rogers and James Thorp. James Rogers is Director of the Global Britain Programme and James Thorp is a Research Assistant, both at the Henry Jackson Society.

Sun Tzu wrote that “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Indeed, defence is not just about the tangible –  navies, air forces, armies, or even cyber forces – but is also about shaping and reshaping narratives, discourse and perception.

Better than their counterparts in democratic nations, contemporary strategic theorists in authoritarian, revisionist regimes – such as Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) – appreciate Sun Tzu’s ideas. They have started to develop increasingly sophisticated ways to discredit foreign views that they find distasteful or antithetical, while simultaneously replacing them with messages of their own. The PRC recently struck the UK with such an offensive.

On the 11th of February, Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Defence, gave a speech on ‘Transforming Defence’ to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). In his speech, he stated that the UK must be ready to take “action” against “those who flout international law…to shore up the global system of rules and standards on which our security and our prosperity depends.”

He also announced that “the first operational mission of HMS Queen Elizabeth will include the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region. Making Global Britain a reality.”

The PRC latched onto these announcements, many of them relatively mundane and included also in last year’s National Security Capability Review and Modernising Defence Programme.

Just after the Defence Secretary’s speech, the PRC was reported to have announced that it would cancel proposed trade talks between Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Hu Chunhua, the Vice-Premier of the PRC. Much speculation mounted in the British media as to whether this was true, particularly given a statement from a spokesperson from HM Treasury stating that “no trip was ever announced or confirmed.”

Speculation was not helped by an ostensibly pre-recorded intervention by George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was broadcast on the Week on Westminster on BBC Radio 4 on 16 February where he stated – surely understanding the implications of his choice of words – that the Defence Secretary was “engaging in gunboat diplomacy of a quite old-fashioned kind” (a term that often carries historical baggage in the UK). In opposition to the British government’s more comprehensive stance, Mr Osborne went on to explain that the only way to “deliver” in relation to the PRC was through “engagement”, for which he expressed his admiration.

In subsequent reports by the Financial Times, The Independent, The Guardian, The National and the Daily Telegraph, the former Chancellor’s comments about “gunboat diplomacy”, the alleged cancellation of trade talks, and the inaccurate focus on the South China Sea, were all repeated without question. For example, the Financial Times piece from 15 February – co-authored by the same reporter who previously interviewed the former Chancellor for the BBC – described “the Pacific region” as “China’s backyard”, despite the fact that the UK has also its own territories and interests there.

Beyond the fact that elements of the British media covered the story from a de facto pro-PRC standpoint, it is here that Beijing seized on the domestic debate to reshape the narrative, ostensibly to deflect attention from its own revisionist activity in the South China Sea.

This is evident by how, subsequently, Liu Xiaoming, the PRC’s Ambassador to the UK, intervened with forceful and calculated commentaries in the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian, on the 20 and 26 February, respectively. Both of the Ambassador’s interventions accused Mr Williamson of engaging in ‘gunboat diplomacy’; both accused the Defence Secretary of “resurrecting” the “anachronistic” mentality of the Cold War; both focused on future British activities in the South China Sea instead of the vast Pacific region (to which Mr Williamson referred); and both warned the UK that its economic relations with the PRC would be at risk if it continued to challenge Chinese perspectives and intentions.

What does this show? It shows that the PRC is attempting to influence internal UK debates by exploiting domestic divides and reinforcing narratives that discredit the British government, while simultaneously replacing Britain’s legitimate perspectives with its own. London needs to wake up to this new reality because the ideas and institutions it has created and underpinned around the world with its allies – the so-called rules-based international order” – are being challenged like no time since the height of the Cold War.

Undoubtedly, Britain’s open society makes it difficult to counter foreign attempts to reshape British narratives. UK legislation to constrain the domestic media would only backfire, gradually changing the country into the kind of society favoured by its authoritarian competitors. That said, as the world becomes more contested and volatile, British politicians and the media must escape from their myopic focus on internal political squabbles. If they fail, the ground on which they are fighting is in danger of being removed from beneath their feet by external revisionist forces.

Preventing revisionist regimes – like the PRC and Russia – from ‘hijacking’ existing domestic disputes and divides to further their own agendas will involve more than a passive approach. Like Sun Tzu counseled, the UK should push back. By empowering the BBC World Service and the British Council, Britain should project its own narratives around the world more vigorously. Equally, through more clandestine information offensives, the UK should begin targeting its revisionist competitors to (re)shape their narratives.

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Lee1

Exactly. This is why for instance I would have thought it would have been a good idea at the time to have called Russias bluff on Crimea. They claimed that their troops were peacekeepers, we should have said “We agree totally and so we are sending our own peacekeepers to help you”. What would Russia have done then? Basically we would have stopped the Annexation of Crimea by not having a fight!

Martin

The Russian forces were already based in Crimea, how would we or anyone else get forces there?

David E Flandry

By air or by sea. Would Russia shoot them down or sink them?

Elliott

They would shoot you down. End of story. You do not see Russian troops trying to act as “peacekeepers” and intervening between the US and Cuba over Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Why? Because it would be a death sentence and it would be the same in reverse for a intervention by western forces into Crimea. It would have been more than a fight it would have been giving Russia several casus belli for example self-defense, preemptive action based on the last 30 years of “peacekeeping” by Western forces has always resulted in shooting and bombing. This is not the Middle… Read more »

Do you listen to anything people say on here?

Varun

No one can dream to fight WWF wrestling with ailing body. China is able to harass Western societies through it’s parallel hierarchies which it has managed to create within western societies, using their domestic fault lines. Human right, gender equality, environment, relentless immigration from third world, illicit drug trade, counterfeits, supporting axis of evil, manipulation political systems through bribes & debts as in SA & other countries in Africa, BRI, ecosystems like shell companies to facilitate under-invoiced imports, pliable custom brokers etc etc have been used craftily. Rather than having China centered policy West should adopt principal centered approach and… Read more »

Martin

We should push back by doing the very thing they accuse us of, send HMS Queen Elizabeth at the head of a multilateral carrier strike group right in to the South China Sea. China’s version of international trade is very one sided so I can’t see any benefit to the UK of a free trade agreement with China. Better to stay on WTO terms. If China wants to float the Renminbi it has little choice but to use London as an international clearing centre. The Uk does not need to bow down to China for anything. We do ourselves a… Read more »

“We do ourselves a discredit constantly talking the UK down and China up. ”

Agree. It’s as if the media and establishment want the UK to fail. The Guardian is a season ticket holder.

Here is another version of exactly the same disease, but OT.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-47774564

Simon

The media are only interested in selling papers (oh, and I guess new fangled tele-visual experiences and inter-mc-net stuff).

If people are stupid enough to believe the media without question we are doomed.

Mark

The PRC and Russia attempt to highlight British activities as an old style colonial power because they are perfectly aware that the UK has been nothing but a force for good in the world for some considerable time.

Agree, but leave Iraq and out of that.

Ulya

Sorry, I cannot help myself but ask, a force of good for who Mark? I base my question on my experience in the ME and surrounding areas spending much time in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghan border area with Iran. I am not trying to pick a fight just curious to how you see this force of good. Would not saying national interests be more accurate?

Martin

Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone. The areas sorounding Iraq have major issue no doubt but very little of it due to British action. Syria is interesting, the one place we did not intervene and it ended up being by far the bloodiest. Dammed if we do dammed if we don’t. I can’t think of one good thing Russia or China ever did which should probably be the bench mark to look at in terms of international action.

Afghanistan is also in a bad way but it’s better then when we arrived in 2001.

Ulya

I disagree with you on many of your points but I guess that’s no surprise, but thank you for the reply, it helps with my understanding

Mark

Ulya over the last 70 years the death rate due to war has dropped to an all time low. When the world powers start to work together and starve the oxygen from these types of conflicts we may discover further improvements. It is in the interests of the UK to help keep the peace and deter aggression. That is a force for good. You are perhaps closer to the consequences of a failure of the world powers to understand that their own interests are linked to a wider failure to work together for a common good.

Ulya

I do agree with you that the world’s powers need to work together to try to stop these war etc, but when the sides have such different views on things and there is no real communication or respect for each other’s view I don’t see that happening anytime soon. We can always hope. Again, thank you for your reply

Martin

World powers are more in agreement now than at any time in history. They all agree on the same basic economic model and even political structure. Both China and Russia are technically democracy’s after a fashion. All world powers excluding the US signed up to Paris accords and even trump won’t pull out of the full accords. Montreal accords on CFC’s were a massive success and all world powers are cooperating in areas such as CRS and anti terrorism. Compared to where we were in the 1950’s all world powers are virtually on the same page. Most of the bluster… Read more »

dave12

And what has Russia done for world peace Ulya? if you think its Syria? then why use cluster bombs in populated areas then allow assad to use the very accurate barrel bombs and the use of sarin on its people.I know you like to sow doubt in your very subtle way but as martin ponited out the UK was at the for front in Kosavo.Stopping the more dominant military serbs ethnic cleansing on the Kosavo people while Russia tried to arm the serbs.

Ulya

Dave, you already believe me a troll so will dismiss my opinion as nothing more than Russian propaganda and you and I have very different views on Syria. My interest in this site and the comments here is trying to further my understanding of UK people’s view of things and because I have an interest in the UK military, it’s easy enough to listen to your government and read your media to get the official view. So far many of the comments and replys have been interesting and done politely, I cannot be bothered getting into the whole troll argument… Read more »

Captain P Wash

Lol.

Captain P Wash

All Good points Dave.

Captain P Wash

What were your Middle East Experiences Ulya ? Care to share them with us,so we can get a balanced view?

Captain P Wash

Must be a Time Delay !!!!

Ulya

My experiences Captain? You mean my work, why I go to these countries? Or personal experience with the people?

Captain P Wash

Either would be good.

Mark

I think there have been many mistakes along the way and perhaps more to come but I feel that although we might lose sleep over the consequences and the motives might have been naive – were the intentions good?

dave12

Well said mark

Geoffrey Hicking

Britain may happily apologise for its more squalid imperial mis-adventures, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll sit back and let other powers like Russia and the PRC be rapacious imperialists themselves. That’s why we are part of the 5 powers agreement. Any anti-imperialist that tolerates someone else’s imperialism is nothing but a hypocrite. Furthermore, the commonwealth is extremely popular among poorer states- it provides information that they cannot usually access. It has completely transcended its imperial past and become an organisation that nation after nation are desperate to join. It represents the absolute best of the old empire. Post-Brexit, I… Read more »

Commonwealth FT agreement?

Steve R

I can’t believe nobody in government has brought that idea up already!

If we remade the Commonwealth as a free trade organisation then we could negotiate free trade deals as not one nation but as 49 nations including Australia and Canada; that gives major power to us in negotiations.

Captain P Wash

I think there were Concerns expressed Pre EU Membership regarding our Trade with the Commonwealth. Not that the Government Listened.

funny that !

Dan

Isn’t going to happen, guys. Canada and Australia have already said that they intend to negotiate hard for trade deals that are more favourable to them than the ones they have with the EU.

They put themselves first…fancy that!

Captain P Wash

Well, Yes, And How Rich they all were as a result. Meanwhile, the other 90% just stayed Poor.

If I were a Sweary Type, I’d probably, Swear.

Steven

Rules-based international order ? Like Trump telling the Syrian’s to get their troops out of the Golan Heights because it is now part of Israel ? Or telling the Russians to get their personnel out of Venezuela or the US will impose new sanctions on Russia ? When will the UK make a stand against the Neo-Cons in Washington in defence of the “rules-based international order” ?

Helions
Helions

A British think tank is being funded by Japan to run a propaganda campaign against Chinese foreign policy. Sir Malcolm Rifkind was approached to put his name to an article on article on China’s nuclear plans The Henry Jackson Society (HJS) is a registered charity run by Alan Mendoza, an unsuccessful Tory candidate at the 2015 general election, which promotes an interventionist foreign policy to protect democracy and human rights. The charity is reportedly receiving around £10,000 a month from the Japanese embassy in London to encourage politicians and journalists to speak out against China’s international political moves. The campaign… Read more »

Steven

Maybe the Japanese government should advise it’s businesses against pulling out of Britain post-BREXIT

The neoconservative Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think tank is on the payroll of the Japanese embassy, charged with drafting in public figures to spread anti-Chinese propaganda, investigators claim. The Times’ investigation suggests the London-based HJS is paid £10,000 (US$12,500) per month to spread anti-Chinese propaganda, including through public figures like former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind. HJS frames itself as a pro-intervention and pro-capitalist voice, which aims to spread freedom and democracy around the world. It is run by the academic and failed Tory parliamentary candidate Alan Mendoza. Read more British neocons take new McCarthyism across the Atlantic British neocons… Read more »

A neoconservative think tank? F**k off haha Good old neocon politics, that gave us the complete shitstorm in the middle east, turned Russia that was on it’s knees ready to be embraced into an enemy again, gave us arseholes like Bush, Blair, Clinton and Obama, given the world islamic terrorism on a whole new scale. Why do you think people voted for Trump and Brexit, neocon politics runs deep in US and EU policy, free market economics and open borders, multiculturalism, meanwhile burying our loved ones because of foreign intervention in places we are despised and regime change in the… Read more »

Very interesting Sole.

Thanks.

Captain P Wash

“Funny/Smart/Witty/childish/Stupid” Ha Ha Ha.

I resemble that remark !!!!!

PS, Don’t Diss the RGR, He’s way more popular on here than virtually anyone else due to being

“Funny/Smart/witty/Childish/Stupid”

keep up the great work RGR.

I’m a troll, my wife says I look like one and I kinda like sitting under bridges waiting for goats to have sex with.

Sorry, to eat! Slip of the tongue there…

Actually, I can’t lie anymore. I’m coming out… I LIKE SEX WITH GOATS. There, I’ve admitted it.

What was this article about again?

Oh yes, gun goat diplomacy. Can you get a 5” gun on a goat? I’m thinking a modified bushmaster only, but happy to be wrong. Would China really feel threatened by an armed goat?

captain P Wash

New class of Ship, “Goat Boat”.

LOL! With twin “Horn” CIWS! And a “Beard” dipping sonar!

First of Class?

HMS Gruff.

Meiron X

Solesurvivor#
Trolls like you, Totally alienate new posters like me, sprouting your Far left Bulls***!
Get a life!
How do they get away peddling such rubbish!

What far left rubbish is that?

In what way am i “troll”

I have seen that name on here before so how new are you?

Why don’t you try involve making a counter argument to someone’s point in your life, instead of vaguely attacking someone.

Meirion X

I do counter argue serious and true comments. But you have been posting disinformation all Yesterday!

Meirion X

Solesurvivor# You need to take a look in a mirror and ask yourself, what am I doing wrong!
Good Night!

No I really don’t.

The first two posts were from The Times newspaper, hardly far left. And my third comment were valid points shared by millions of people, so why don’t you get your head out your arse and try prove me wrong instead making a fool out yourself, lying saying you’re a new poster when you have a very familiar name that I’ve seen on here before, making accusations of disinformation without any evidence to back it up.

What a fool you are.

Meiron X

Speak for Yourself!!
YOU ARE A TROLL, Disinformation is Your Trade!

captain P Wash

Well, That went well.

Who’s up for a Goat Curry ?

Daveyb

I prefer curried goat, mind you there was that curried goat/sheep thing I had in Afghan.

captain P Wash

You sure It wasn’t “Hound” ?

Pete

The best interpretation of the rules based international order…. Courtesy of eddie izzard

https://youtu.be/hYeFcSq7Mxg

Ed

A very important and timely article. Appears the comments have somewhat strayed from the original topic at hand.