Britain may be able to leverage an unexpected asset against a rising China as it vies to displace the Western allies as the world’s preeminent power: the remnants of its historic empire.
Britain’s proudest boast in days gone by was its claim to govern an empire upon which “the sun never sets”. While her possessions in Africa and South Asia have long been decolonised, however, and Commonwealth realms such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some notable others have become fully independent — albeit maintaining the Queen as head of state — the boast is technically still true.
While the British Empire proper is seldom referred to except when bestowing national honours on people who have made a significant contribution to public life, the globe remains dotted with what are now called British Overseas Territories — most famously Gibraltar on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula and the Falkland Islands off the coast of South America, but also the likes of the isolated Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) which hosts the vast and controversial Diego Garcia military base.
Now, Dr Mark Hilborne of King’s College London (KCL) is urging the British government to make use of these imperial remnants as a counter-weight to the Chinese Communist Party’s growing power in space, with their wide geographical spread giving them new utility as outposts from which the regime’s satellites can be monitored.
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“It’s sort of [a] theoretical footprint on the ground, and that will give you coverage of different areas, which the U.S. has kind of gaps in [in] the southern hemisphere, so the UK could then fill in that gap in terms of getting an overall picture of what’s in space and who’s doing what,” Dr Hilborne explained to The Telegraph.
“From a military perspective… if China does things we need to know about it. And the same with Russia,” he added, noting the particular usefulness of the British territories for the task due to the fact that it is “relatively cheap to put things on the ground and look upwards”.
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