BRITAIN is locked in a second Cold War – and it’s been slowly going on under our noses for years.
This time we are facing off against two formidable opponents, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Both are effectively leaders for life of freedom-crushing, totalitarian regimes, determined not only to reject the western way of life but to challenge and destroy it, too.
And unless we act with steely determination, Cold War Two could prove as long and costly as the last one.
Millions of lives and billions of pounds were lost during the brutal 45-year stand-off between Communism and the West.
But today there are no tanks and missiles assembled either side of the Iron Curtain which once divided Europe.
That’s because the twin empires of Russia and China have already invaded our shores with money and influence to spread their tentacles into every fabric of society.
Over nearly two decades, Putin and Xi have deployed a mixture of wealth and stealth to tighten their grip on Britain and other Western economies.
Events of the past few weeks laid bare how the deadly duo have infiltrated British society and embedded themselves at the heart of the establishment, buying everything from mansions on millionaire’s row to stakes in our companies and infrastructure.
China’s influence has spread quicker than the killer virus which finally woke up the world to the threat posed by Xi’s regime.
Like Russia, he has duped his way into the heart of UK life to wage a cyber campaign of hacking, disinformation and meddling in our political affairs.
We had big hopes for Russia after the last Cold War.
The country started to open up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But familiar old ideas began creeping back into the Kremlin after ex-KGB man Putin arrived on the scene.
He believes the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century”.
He blames the West for Russia’s decline and wants revenge.
Britain has underestimated the Russian threat for years, according to a report by Parliament’s intelligence and security committee last week.
Despite having an economy no bigger than Italy’s, Putin pumped colossal sums into upgrading his army, navy and air force and expanding Russian influence into Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria.
Had the UK and our Nato allies not sent troops to the Baltic, he would no doubt have ventured deeper into Eastern Europe.
Putin continues to flex his muscles.
Rarely a week goes by when a MiG-31 does not buzz UK airspace or a Russian submarine is not tracked probing our waters.
But Cold War Two involves much more than traditional military hardware.
He has developed world-class cyber warfare capabilities and is now weaponising space after test-firing an anti-satellite weapon in orbit.
As the 2018 Novichok poison attacks in Salisbury illustrated, Putin cares little about upsetting Western opinion.
In isolation, the threat from him alone is manageable.
But while we have spent a decade responding to an angry Russian bear we have ignored a calculating Chinese dragon we thought we could tame.
Then came the pandemic. It shone an international spotlight on China, its true character and how its own interests threaten the West.
Attempts to hide the initial outbreak — even arresting and silencing the first Chinese doctor to identify the global risk — was shameful.
Xi’s treatment of a million Uighur Muslims is chilling and his suppressions of peaceful protests in Hong Kong starkly demonstrate how he has turned China into a ruthless police state.
Xi has played a blinder in duping the West into believing that as Communist China grew it would become more open and democratic and support our world order.
So we opened our markets in the hope China was communist in name only.
Xi seized the chance to use his country’s economic might to lure dozens of poorer countries into large-scale infrastructure programmes that on financial terms they cannot afford.
Billions of dollars have been pumped into state-run tech companies such as Huawei to offer state-of-the-art telecoms at a market price the West can’t compete with.
Xi has also been quietly upping his military spending, which 20 years ago equalled the UK’s and has now overtaken Russia’s.
Its navy grows by the size of our fleet every year and today it boasts the largest land army in the world.
China has also developed a fifth-generation stealth fighter, has an independent constellation of satellites, built around 300 nuclear warheads and is also placing weapons in space.
It’s already landing spacecraft on the moon.
Expect the first words spoken on Mars to be Chinese.
It is now on course to overtake the US as the world’s number one superpower — economically, technologically and militarily.
This cold war will be on two fronts.
Firstly, dozens of poorer countries ensnared in Chinese infrastructure and telecoms programmes will be further pressured into tilting away from the West for fear of reprisals.
Closer to home, China is mopping up ownership on an impressive scale — Smithfield foods, Volvo, Motorola, London Taxi Co (which makes the capital’s famous black cabs), GE Appliances, Grindr, Reddit and IBM.
And it is quick to lean on any business which steps out of line.
Mercedes has publicly apologised for using a Dalai Lama quote.
Marriott hotels removed all references to Taiwan on its website and Tom Cruise’s flight jacket on the Top Gun sequel had a Japanese flag digitally removed in post-production editing.
The first “shot” in response to Boris Johnson’s decision to remove Huawei from Britain’s 5G network was to black out Premier League football from the Chinese TV network.
China has even neutralised the United Nations by subtly taking over the key leadership roles as seen at the World Health Organisation, which curiously had little criticism of the regime’s attempt to hide the COVID-19 outbreak.
The second front in Cold War Two involves our increasing reliance on digital interconnectivity.
Our security, economy, democracy and privacy are now vulnerable to cyber interference.
The scale of instability caused by cyber-attacks, data theft and misinformation is huge, yet cheap, deniable and easy to disguise. We must watch our backs.
Data is more valuable than oil and there is no need to hack it if you own it in the first place.
The global expansion of tech giants such as Tencent and Alibaba gives China more oversight than any other country.
As with the last Cold War we need the courage to light a pathway out.
The British lion dared to poke the dragon after its actions in Hong Kong.
But we can’t stop here — nor can we do this alone.
Boris Johnson must stand strong with America and put the squeeze on China.
And we must be frank with our allies, including the EU, which has undermined international efforts by signing a new trade deal with Beijing.
As in the last Cold War, this battle can only be won if the West stands as one.
That means drawing up new rules and bolstering our military capabilities to show we’re willing to enforce them.
We cannot decouple from China.
Indeed, it is trade that is China’s Achilles heel, giving the country its economic strength.
The unchecked trajectory of China’s ambitions is creating a dangerous bipolar world to which the West must respond.
As this Cold War deepens, Chinese and Russian interests will align.
We must also concede the West is in part to blame.
We’ve become too risk-averse and lacking in collective resolve for what we stand for and are willing to defend.
There is simply an absence of international leadership.
Countries have retreated from global exposure.
Consequently, we’ve done little to stop Russia’s advances in Eastern Europe and China’s in the South China Sea.
We failed to defend our trading laws and we’ve allowed our collective defence posture to wither.
We’ve failed to invest and upgrade our international institutions to reflect our changing times.
And we’ve failed to understand a country still bruised by what it sees as a century of humiliation by the West.
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With Russia and China, we’ve failed to understand their interests, history, culture and personalities, and wrongly assumed both would become more Western.
But becoming the globe’s largest single market does not grant you authority to adjust the global rules for your own advantage.
And we must remember, our argument is with the Chinese regime and not its people.
- Tobias Ellwood was a Foreign Office Minister from 2014-17, Defence Minister from 2017-19 and now chairs the Commons defence committee.
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