The UK Foreign Office has banned government officials from describing Russia, China or other nations as “hostile states,” The Times reported on Monday, citing multiple sources.
The wording has effectively been prohibited for use in official documents and even internal correspondence between civil servants and various government agencies, according to the newspaper. An unnamed official with another department told The Times that he had recently had a submission turned down by the Foreign Office over the language used.
“States aren’t inherently hostile themselves, they just do hostile things,” the Foreign Office explained, as cited by the official.
Apart from banning the wording from current correspondence, previous official documents have also been edited, including the 2021 integrated review of foreign and defense policy, The Times reported. The document now uses “hostile actors” instead of “hostile states,” while terms such as “hostile state activity” have been replaced with “state threats.”
The policy shift, which is believed to be primarily aimed at mending ties with China, has reportedly gone down badly in various government departments. Some officials have described the changes as “ludicrous” and said they have caused “a lot of bemusement across government.”
The government has acknowledged the policy shift, explaining that the new wording has been introduced to keep London’s position in line with that of its allies.
“The integrated review refresh uses a range of terms to describe the activities of state and non-state actors, including ‘state threats.’ This terminology is agreed across government and is widely used by our allies,” a spokesperson told the media, insisting that the UK continues to take “strong action” against “state threats.”
The new policy has been harshly criticized by hawkish politicians, including the former leader of the Conservatives, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who condemned the change as “pathetic.”
“This is Orwellian political speak in which you invent terms that are themselves meaningless to describe genuine dangerous and difficult circumstances because you have an ulterior motive such as not frightening your own people or not to upset those you are dealing with. The idea that China is not a hostile state is absurd,” the MP told The Times.
Duncan Smith doubled down in a post on X (formerly Twitter), appearing to compare modern China to Nazi Germany.
“A country guilty of genocide, slave labour, invasion of the South China Seas and eyeing up plans to invade Taiwan, apparently isn’t a hostile state. Officials should remember that appeasement didn’t work in the 1930’s and it won’t work now,” he wrote.