The British military presence is set to increase in the Far East as part of a review of its overseas strategy, the head of the army has said.
The decision will be seen as a provocative counter to the growing power of China with the British Army chief also proposing that aircraft carriers and fighter jets should move into the region.
General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith said the Army was to have a “more persistent presence” in Asia to reverse the decline in numbers following the major Middle East deployments post 9/11.
An increased presence in the Far East will “change narratives, provide reassurance to allies and deterrence for adversaries,” the general said. “They will give the UK more strategic choice and influence.”
The general's comments come as the British government plans to publish its 'Integrated Review' in November in which it will set out military, foreign and intelligence strategy for the next five years.
That is now expected to shift eastwards to counter China’s muscular policy in the South China Sea. In a signal that Britain will use its Royal Navy increasingly in the Pacific region, Gen Carleton-Smith proposed using its large Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers as “lily-pad” platforms from which to launch army exercises.
“We think there is a market for a more persistent presence from the British Army in the Far East,” he told defence reporters. “It’s an area that saw a much more consistent Army presence in the 1980s but with 9/11 we naturally receded from it. We think now might be the time to redress that imbalance.
“If we are going to see a UK presence in the region from Carrier Strike Groups I would like to see some of those naval assets disembarking elements of the British Army for their own training in that part of the world.”
His words will put further pressure on China which zealously guards the islands it has seized control of in the South China Sea. Tensions are rising in the area with American carrier group deployments and increasing Chinese military exercises close to Taiwan.
Also today, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and General Sir Nick Carter have outlined the Integrated Operating Concept which will put forward how the British military operates in the future.
In his speech General Carter warned about the “level of military engagement” in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey has made bellicose noise, and said that “the potential for misunderstanding is significant”.
He added that British forces would become more active “against common threats, particularly violent extremism, and this may well involve combat operations”.
Gen Carleton-Smith views chime with a growing British foreign policy that has seen increased military co-operation with countries such as Japan and South Korea.
The British Army has remained largely unseen in the region since the UK handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997, however it does have a permanent battalion of Gurkhas deployed in Brunei, Borneo.
There is also understood to be a push to expand the British Army presence in Central and South America as well as East Africa
The army chief added that a priority after the Integrated Review will be to grow Britain’s special forces stating it was “one of our most valued and relevant strategic assets”.