After more than a year of insinuations and allegations that have ultimately bloomed into open diplomatic warfare, the Chinese have launched a concerted fightback against the UK – and you have to consider they might have a point.
Not only have the UK and the USA spent the last year pointing fingers at Beijing for failing to control the outbreak of coronavirus after it first appeared in Wuhan, there has been the US trade war launched by “the former guy” Trump, the British U-turn on the Huawei telecoms – already banned in the US – deal that means stripping out 5G infrastructure to be replaced with non-Chinese technology, and its offer of British citizenship to Hong Kong citizens wishing to flee the national security crackdown from Beijing following the collapse of the ‘one country, two systems’ ideal.
Then there’s the continuing allegations – albeit denied by China – of genocide against its Uighur muslim population, and earlier this month the UK’s communications watchdog, Ofcom, pulled the plug on the China Global Television Network (CGTN), accusing it of being under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, a political oversight forbidden in the exalted media landscape of Great Britain.
Beijing responded to the CGTN ban by doing the same to the BBC in China.
It’s fair to say that the Anglo-Sino relationship is in a pretty poor state.
You could pick any of the aforementioned issues out for debate and there are worthy arguments on both sides, but while the UK and the USA attempt to occupy the moral high ground, China has decided it’s time for a few revelatory home truths.
The Chinese press agency Xinhua led the charge this week, backed by the People’s Daily-owned Global Times, in a strongly worded editorial declaring the UK’s policy on China as “extremely Janus-faced” and “deranged.”
The language might be slightly awkward, but the sentiment is clear.
“While one hand was giving the order to promote bilateral cooperation with China, notably in trade and economy, the other one issued instructions to ban Huawei in Britain’s 5G rollout, blocked China’s law-abiding television network, adopted tailored policy for Hong Kong residents, and barred the import of goods from Xinjiang citing the so-called use of ‘forced labor,’” said author Guo Yage.
Doubling down, she called London “self-deceiving” and “Janus-faced,” accusing British politicians of “pretending their anti-China talking will not be heard by China.”
Embarrassingly, she’s right.
With PM Boris Johnson declaring himself “fervently Sinophile,” while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tries to win support from the UN to steam into China over alleged human rights abuses, then the UK has certainly let itself wide open to Guo Yage’s accusation “that London intends to eat the cake and have it.”
“Carrying out such a two-faced policy is like splashing dirty water onto someone repeatedly and then saying, ‘Never mind and let’s be friends,’” she added.
The UK is accused of wanting to cash in on its pragmatic cooperation with China while simultaneously taking a tough, pro-Western “Red China” stance to keep up appearances. Not least with Washington.
Sure, global politics is all about nuance. What is said at the press podium is often entirely at odds with the talk behind closed doors, but the accepted behaviour is to accept the differences, even when they appear diametrically opposed, so that diplomatic channels can remain open and the geopolitical wheels can continue to turn.
Unfortunately for the UK, its rank hypocrisy has proved a bridge too far for China and Beijing has decided it’s time to reveal that, while stern words might have been exchanged across the table, we were playing footsie with them all along.
Although Britain might insist it is right to call out Beijing on issues of concern, elsewhere not too far away, the European Union has shelved such concerns, or at least decided not to air them in public, in order to complete a massive seven-years-in-the-making free trade deal that can only improve on the already healthy bilateral exchange worth $650 billion in 2019.
On the sidelines, smaller nations of the EU were delighted to take part in the recent 17-plus-1 talks with China as part of its Belt and Road initiative which piles investment into large-scale infrastructure projects. Agreed, some nations opted out over human rights concerns, but most did not.
Meanwhile, Britain continues to create friction with China, no longer encouraged by President Trump, apparently without a clear endgame in sight and seemingly intent on wielding a lot of stick without too much carrot.
It’s time to change that strategy because, for all the tough talk, we’ve been made to look foolish and petty while other nations are building workable relationships with China that should help to deliver long-term economic prosperity.
Lord knows we could use a bit more of that and a bit less of the diplomatic showboating.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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