Why MI5 and FBI say China's military poses biggest threat to the West over next decade

Watch: Should the UK be concerned by an incoming threat from China?

British and US intelligence services say China will pose the biggest security threat to the West over the next decade.

China's military is a formidable force, boasting a standing army of just over two million in 2022, retaining the largest navy in the world and spending $242bn on its defence budget – second only to the US.

With no-one suggesting China has any intentions of invading the UK, why have both MI5 and the FBI said that China poses the biggest security threat to the West over the next decade?

Meia Nouwens, a senior fellow for Chinese Defence with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the global security, political risk and military conflict think tank, says: "There is a concern that Chinese global military activity could, for example, increase the accessibility of more advanced weapons to countries that otherwise wouldn't have them.

"So where the UK operates it now has to take into consideration new types of weaponry that its adversaries or other local actors might be using."

Russian relationship

Meia Nouwens added: "With regards to Russia and China there is an ever-closening relationship of those two countries though it is not an alliance.

"Nevertheless both countries operate in co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region and they also work together to develop more advanced capabilities like early warning systems."

The US in February said that it suspects that China may be about to provide weapons to Russia, with the American Secretary of State warning China against doing so.

Anthony Blinken met with Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi last month at the Munich Security Conference in Germany where he urged China not to supply lethal aid to Russia's Vladimir Putin.  

In an interview with US media after the meeting Secretary Blinken said that Washington was concerned that Beijing was considering supplying weapons to Moscow.

Watch: China's Jin-Class nuclear submarines: How do they compare to other subs?

Indo-Pacific Region

China is growing in military strength and reach.

Experts say that by 2035 China plans for its military to be able to fight and win wars in the Indo-Pacific region – with a plan to replace the US as the primary regional security guarantor there.

It wants to supposedly alter the international rules-based system to a might equals right system.

But how would this affect the UK?

Meia Nouwens explained that "a majority of international trade in the region runs through maritime shipping lanes in the Indo-Pacific region to and from China but also other countries in the Indo-Pacific".

"So any disturbance to this shipping and to this trade will have a direct follow impact on not just the UK but countries across Europe and across the world."

An economic giant

China is not just a military giant, it is an economic one too.

It is the largest source of imports for the UK and the concern is that China's economic rise is displacing the economic competitiveness of the west.

"What we are talking about here is unfair competition, there is a lack of reciprocity (interchange) in trade between China and the UK as well as other countries around the world," Meia Nouwens says.

"There is also a concern here about how prosperity and security are increasingly overlapping and that the line between the two is blurred.

"So there's questions also about how China has, in certain ways, including in defence, been able to modernise and advance its technological capability at such a quick rate that it has over the past few decades."

The UK and US say it is down to predatory investments, forced technology acquisitions and industrial espionage.

Watch: Ex-military pilots training Chinese personnel would be aware of threat to UK, expert says.

'We all need China for trade and prosperity'

So China could be a threat to UK's economic prosperity and that affects our security.

The challenge China poses to the UK is not straightforward – it is about power and dominance.

Meia Nouwens believes that "this isn't about conflict in the next year or two years, or three years, that could happen due to misunderstanding or miscalculation, certainly in the Indo-Pacific, there is a greater saturation of the airspace and the maritime domain".

She added: "On the other hand, I don't think there is an immediate interest in China to enter into a direct conflict, certainly not [with] the United States or any other countries.

"This is more about how to deal with the really grey areas, the difficult side of the relationship which is that we all need China for trade and prosperity.

"But on the other hand, we need to find a way to do and yet also protect national economies and national competitiveness."

Unfortunately, no country in the west has figured out how to do that yet.

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