UK economy must grow or China and Russia will carve us up

Ukraine ‘will become a member of NATO’ says Jens Stoltenberg

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I don’t want to appear melodramatic, but we need to be clear headed about this. The West is now in a hot war with Russia in Ukraine and a cold one with China.

The stand-off with China will suddenly get hotter if President Xi Jinping starts shipping arms to save embattled Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

And it will get red hot if he invades Taiwan which he could do as early as 2027.

We are only just beginning to wake up to the threat.

I’m a financial journalist, rather than a political or military expert. I don’t know what’s on Jinping’s mind or what the West can do to keep him in check.

But I do know one thing. Unless we have a strong, growing economy, we’ll be easy prey.

China knows this. In the 19th century, the British, US, French, Italians, Austrians, Russians and Japanese carved up the country, knowing it was too weak to fight back.

The Chinese call it the Century of Humiliation, a period stretching from 1839 to 1949. It includes the disgraceful Opium Wars, where the British fought for the right to sell illegal opium to Chinese addicts.

Most Brits don’t know the story of the “scramble for Asia”. The Chinese haven’t forgotten.

Xi Jinping isn’t just building the country’s economy so its citizens can buy nice shiny consumer goods.

Deep down, it’s about power and pride.

In the last few decades, China has grown to be an economic superpower. It is now the world’s second biggest economy after the US.

It may never overtake the US, as its population ages and shrinks, but will remain a force to be reckoned with.

For years, it has been using its wealth to win new friends across Asia and Africa, and silence its enemies.

The world is now divided into two. Democracies such as the US, UK, Europe, New Zealand and Japan on one side and the authoritarian axis of China, Russia and Iran on the other.

Waffling on about human rights won’t help us triumph. Being right isn’t enough. We also have to be rich.

Plus our technology has to be the best in the world.

The war in Ukraine has shown that. Putin’s forces have been stopped by heroic Ukraine patriots, but they were given a huge boost by Western arms.

Shipments of US-made Himars rockets, Bradley fighting vehicles, Patriot missile systems, long-range howitzers and anti-tank missiles have turned the tide.

All those cost money and know-how.

The Ministry of Defence is hoping for an extra £10billion in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s budget on March 15. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has admitted he is fighting an “uphill battle” with the Treasury to get it.

Britain is vulnerable with General Sir Richard Shirreff, formerly Nato’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, warning that “our army has been hollowed out”.

To spend more, we need to earn more. Which means Hunt needs to get the economy growing again, and fast. 

As the cost-of-living crisis drags on, most Britons are feeling a lot poorer than before.

A stronger economy will allow the government to spend more on pensions, roads, schools, and cut taxes too.

All those things are vital for a successful, functioning modern democracy. Yet the sad truth is that we also need guns and ammo, and lots of it.

The so-called “peace dividend” after the collapse of the Berlin Wall has been spent. We have to wake up to the grim new reality.

If the West – and in particular the UK and Europe – accept managed decline as our fate, we won’t just be poorer.

We’ll be carved up by our enemies, as China once was.

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