Starmer vows to be ‘robust’ with China


Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to be “robust” with China, as Nato was set to issue its first official rebuke to Beijing over its military support for Russia.

The Prime Minister, who is in Washington for the 75th anniversary Nato summit, said he was willing to challenge China on human rights and security concerns.

Nato leaders are preparing to issue the alliance’s strongest-ever language condemning China’s military support for Russia in Ukraine, it is understood.

The Asian superpower is said to be developing an attack drone for use by Russia in the conflict.

A draft communique shows that Nato is set to describe China as a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

It details China’s supply of dual-use materials such as weapons components, equipment and raw materials that are eventually used by Russia’s defence sector.

The document is reported to say that Beijing poses “systemic challenges to Euro-Atlantic security”, including through cyber activities and disinformation as well as its development of counter-space capabilities.

Speaking about Labour’s policy on China, Sir Keir said: “The approach we will take is the one, again, that we set out during the campaign, which is one of cooperation where it is necessary and it is on issues like climate change for example.

“But challenge where necessary, equally, and robust challenge with that.

“One of the first things that we will do is carry out the audit that we set out in our manifesto of relations with China, of UK-Chinese relations. We will get on with that audit and take action accordingly.”

The Prime Minister will on Thursday morning pledge to “stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes”, and matched Rishi Sunak’s pledge to give £3 billion a year of military support to the country.

In addition, the UK-administered International Fund for Ukraine will place a new order, worth £300 million, for 120,000 rounds of 152mm Soviet-era ammunition bolstering Ukraine’s defences against Russia.

The UK will deliver a new package of artillery and 90 Brimstone missiles in the coming weeks, and will contribute £40 million to help Ukraine protect itself against drones and mines.

Sir Keir is expected to tell Nato leaders: “Nato was founded by the generation who defeated fascism. They understood not just the value of our strength, but the strength of our values.

“Those values are under attack once again. Putin needs to hear a clear message ringing out from this summit – a message of unity and determination, that we will support Ukraine with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes to uphold our shared values and our shared security.”

Meeting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, on Wednesday Sir Keir said that the country’s path to Nato membership was “irreversible”.

And Sir Keir described this week’s Russian attack on a children’s hospital in Kyiv as “awful”, and said the depraved acts would only serve to steel the international community’s resolve to support Ukraine.

He told Mr Zelensky that there had been a “change of government but no change in position. I also want to say how awful that attack was … just shocking”.

The Prime Minister met Joe Biden, the US president, on Wednesday for the first time at the welcome ceremony for the Nato summit.

He later held a bilateral meeting with him in the White House, before attending a dinner for all Nato leaders and their wives.

Speaking after the meeting between the two leaders, the president hailed Britain as the “knot” binding Nato together after Sir Keir congratulated him on hosting the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit.

“I kind of see you guys as the knot tying the transatlantic alliance together,” Mr Biden said.

“The closer you are with Europe, the more you’re engaged, because we know where you are, we know where we are.”

Sir Keir replied: “I think that’s absolutely right. Now we go into a cup final on Sunday, on top of all that.”

Earlier at the meeting, Sir Keir met German chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the two leaders agreed to co-operate on defence.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The chancellor welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment to re-setting the UK’s European partnerships.

“The two leaders moved on to discuss the need for enhanced defence cooperation in Europe to act as a deterrent for aggression by hostile actors.”

The Prime Minister told reporters he would use his first two international summits to strengthen ties with Europe in days, not months.

Pledge to spend 2.5pc on defence

“Because of the timing of the election, which was much discussed for other reasons, it has provided a really important window of opportunity for me and my team, because we’ve got the Nato summit within a week of the election, so we get the opportunity to strengthen our relations with various of the Nato leaders and others obviously that are there, including EU leaders,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Sir Keir pledged to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence, but did not put a timeline on when the target would be reached.

Earlier, Armed Forces minister Luke Pollard said the government would not increase spending on the military unless it was able to grow the economy.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The way we deliver increased public spending on defence, on schools, hospitals or prisons, is by growing our economy. If we don’t grow our economy, there won’t be the money to support those public services and the ambitions that we have – and that includes defence.”

But later Downing Street said that defence spending would increase even if growth did not. A senior official said: “The commitment to defence is absolute. But we are also confident that we will get growth in the economy so I don’t accept that we don’t have to wait for one, for the other.”

The official also said there was “scepticism about whether the maths added up” on the Tories’ election pledge to spend 2.5 per cent by 2030, following criticism of Labour for not matching the commitment.

‘Root and branch defence review’

Ahead of the summit, the Labour government pledged a “root-and-branch” Strategic Defence Review which will set out a “roadmap” to achieving the 2.5 per cent goal.

John Healey, the Defence Secretary, confirmed the review, which will be officially launched next week, will be delivered within the year.

Speaking from the NATO Summit in Washington, Mr Healey said: “I’ve said for some time and we said in the manifesto, we will conduct the Strategic Defence review within a year. We will do that, we’ll do that in less than a year.

“We will do it properly. We’ll do it at pace. We’ll do it so that we can get to grips with difficult decisions that need to be taken early and that defence can then become the foundation for a mission-led government that is at the heart of both the security of the country and the economic growth and prosperity of the country.”

He said the review would include “deep reform” within defence.

Mr Healey added that the Labour government would “secure our role as Europe’s leading nation in NATO and make Britain again democracy’s most reliable ally around the world”.

He said the UK’s commitment to NATO would be at the heart of the review.

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