Conflict prevention in the 21st century

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3. China-UK cooperation on conflict prevention: An empty promise, a misguided aspiration, or a future reality?

What might a 'prevention partnership' between China and the UK look like?

The BSOS makes explicit mention of the need to create 'prevention partnerships' between the UK and a number of non-traditional partners including China. The CPWG project is a practical, if limited, step towards that. 'Partnership' is also a thread that runs through the National Security Strategy and SDSR 2015. It is recognized as key to the UK's ability to deliver security and prosperity for its citizens across a range of areas including countering extremism and radicalization, cyber security, tackling transnational organized crime, intelligence-sharing, global health, crisis response and defense production. There is a specific section on partnership with China that sets out the UK's broad vision for UK-China partnership across a range of conflict and security-related issues:

"Our relationship with China is rapidly expanding. We do not expect to agree with the Chinese Government on everything... But our aim is to build a deeper partnership with China, working more closely together to address global challenges, including… economic development in Africa, peacekeeping… We strongly support China's greater integration into more of the world's key institutions and organisations… The UK and China will establish a high-level security dialogue to strengthen exchanges and cooperation on security issues... We will work together to strengthen cooperation on settling international and regional disputes peacefully."

On the basis of an understanding about the various modalities of the UK's traditional partnerships in this area it is reasonable to assume that an idealised, future, China-UK conflict prevention partnership might have some of the following characteristics:

• greater coordination of upstream conflict prevention work, through development assistance coordination mechanisms at the international and country level (akin, perhaps, to OECD DAC)

•greater sharing of information and analysis at different levels to foster improved early Warning

• increased joint analysis at the country level, and improved mutual understanding that might lead to joint positions being sought more readily in the event of a crisis

Through the discussions of CPWG it became clear that such characteristics, although not unobtainable, are perhaps some distance away.

It is also worth taking into account that this focus on partnership has been largely at the UK's instigation. The UK's motivation for taking these proactive steps can be linked to, arguably, quite a farsighted international development policy together with an eagerness to work with China as it begins to engage more comprehensively with the'rules-based international system'. Fundamentally, the UK sees the eradication of poverty as both a moral and a pragmatic, self-interested cause given the extent to which poverty is connected with instability. Furthermore, it recognises that countries need to work together to bring about lasting change. The previous section of this report has highlighted how China's motivations to support international development, and conflict prevention as a subset of that, are increasingly clear. China's motivations for forming a partnership with the UK in this area are, however, less obvious.

Rather than looking for how a partnership could come about immediately, a key line of enquiry of the CPWG has therefore been the extent to which we are seeing increasing convergence between the UK and China in outlook and approach, together with increasing overlap of interests. Cooperation and partnership between China and the UK in conflict prevention will only flourish in the longer term if there continues to be a positive trajectory.

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