We should use Covid to woo China, not demonise it

一本道理不卡一二三区 However alien Britain might find the Chinese regime, it is not about to collapse or go away

It was meant to be a new “golden age” of relations with China. Trade and investment between our nations would flourish; the City would bring transparency and accountability to China’s belt and road initiative, and facilitate the country’s reserve currency aspirations. In return for helping ease China’s path to global respectability, Britain would gain high-level access to its fast-growing markets; the two would partner on infrastructure and much else besides.

一本道理不卡一二三区But then along came Covid-19 and everything changed. Deteriorating relations with China long predate the virus but as on much else, it has greatly exacerbated the trend.

一本道理不卡一二三区For many, it has been the final straw, demonstrating once and for all both that China is not to be trusted and that it is too alien to Western values ever to be fully integrated into the global order.

Within the Conservative Party, there has been a steady shift from the great kowtow under David Cameron and George Osborne, through the muddled thinking of Theresa May – who at first paused Chinese involvement in Britain’s nuclear power programme but then caved in – to today’s now overt manifestations of Sinophobia, with a number of prominent Tories calling for a complete rethink in relations.

A new pressure group, the China Research Group (CRG), modelled on the hard-line pro-Brexit European Research Group, has gathered growing support since it was launched last month. There is an obvious irony here because if the UK is leaving the EU to pursue a “global Britain” agenda, then to begin by ostracising the world’s biggest growth market looks a very odd way of going about it.

Yet it would be wrong to see the CRG as a mere reincarnation of the ERG – Euroscepticism transmogrified as it were into Sinoscepticism now that the battle for Brexit has been won.

Worryingly for China apologists, the CRG attracts support from across the spectrum, including many Remainers and centrists. Dean Godson, director of the think tank Policy Exchange, divides them into eight different but overlapping strands of thought: pro-Brexit Atlanticists such as Iain Duncan Smith who worry that accommodating Chinese interests will jeopardise the chances of a free trade deal with the US, as well as intelligence sharing arrangements in the “five eyes” Anglosphere; those like William Hague and Damian Green who think that if China is to be embraced it must be made to abide by the rules of the international order; liberal internationalists such as Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee; libertarians like David Davis, who object to Chinese authoritarianism on principle; human rights activists; protectionists, who like Donald Trump think China undermines Western jobs; anti-globalists such as Nick Timothy; and finally those who encompass all these concerns.

As can be seen, that’s a mighty powerful alliance of interests, which any prime minister, never mind one as beholden to populist forces as Boris Johnson, would find very hard to resist. While Johnson was laid out on his sick bed, Dominic Raab, acting prime minister, said there needed to be a “deep dive” into China’s handling of coronavirus and warned: “We can’t have business as usual.” Johnson finds himself bulldozed by forces he may be powerless to control.

Yet resist Johnson must. Despite his famous “f--- business” remark during the heat of the Brexit debate, the Prime Minister is philosophically very pro-business in his outlook, and though many Remainers might find this hard to believe, he is also a pragmatist.

Both these attributes were on show for what was a very gutsy decision, shortly before Covid hit, to allow Huawei to participate in the 5G roll-out一本道理不卡一二三区. To have done anything else would admittedly have been very difficult. The train had left the station; it would have cost the big mobile phone operators billions to strip out all the Huawei equipment already installed, and would have set 5G back at least two years.

一本道理不卡一二三区Even so, Johnson risked quite a bit of political capital with his decision, which felt like a betrayal to many backbenchers, similar in some respects to May allowing continued Chinese participation in new nuclear plant building.

He will have to expend a great deal more getting the Telecoms Security Bill through the Commons this summer in unamended form.

Both these decisions were substantially influenced by senior civil servants, heavily invested as they are in the previous, pro-Chinese policy.

At the height of the Brexit paralysis, Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, organised a Beijing junket for his permanent secretaries; they are said to have felt quite at home among Chinese peers, and not a little jealous of their counterparts’ lack of democratic accountability. They are not called “mandarins” for nothing.

We might mistrust the Chinese, be suspicious of their motives and ambitions, find their disregard for human rights repugnant, and their use of surveillance offensive, but this cannot be allowed to act as a barrier to doing business with them.

一本道理不卡一二三区If these standards were universally applied, you would end up trading with no one. Do we cease business with Saudi Arabia because it has a petulant and intolerant ruler with murderous underlings to do his bidding? No, we determine what is in our best interests and act accordingly.

一本道理不卡一二三区However alien we might find the Chinese regime, it is not about to collapse or go away. Ostracising it won’t bring about its demise; it will only make us poorer, and other goals, such as those on climate change, virtually impossible.

一本道理不卡一二三区An independent Britain cannot any more afford its China policy to be dictated by Trump as an increasingly Sinophobe European Union.

The UK is already the go-to place in Europe for Chinese investment. Chinese investors have not seen Brexit as any kind of deterrent.

一本道理不卡一二三区Nobody should be under any illusions. China is for China; there is not an ounce of altruism in anything it does. It practises a form of economic nationalism quite without precedent in the modern age. We must be ready to call Chinese interests out where appropriate, and act accordingly. But demonising them at one and the same time as fighting Europe in the vague hope of favours from the US is no kind of an economic strategy for the future.

Britain’s opportunity is rather that of bridging these divides and creating a new form of multilateralism that encompasses trade, climate, economic and healthcare policy. Channel Covid into that kind of endeavour, rather than futile anti-Chinese sentiment, and maybe something positive might eventually come out of it.

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