One of yesterday’s news headlines under the title “Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in UK”: began: “Chinese President Xi Jinping has arrived in the UK at the start of a four-day state visit which UK PM David Cameron has said hails a “golden era” in ties between the two countries” It got me thinking. It is easy for westerners to think the significant powers on the world stage are western ones led by the US, but that would be a mistake given there are others outside of the West, led by China, that are also influential and the way things are going are likely to take over from the West in this regard.
I have to confess that my knowledge of what is going on in China today and the events that led up to it are sketchy and it needs events like these for us to reflect that China has come a long way regarding technological advance and international status in a short time. In my formative years (1960’s and 1970’s) it was impossible to think about China without thinking of Chairman Mao and his little red book and how Mao’s fanatical brand of communism controlled the country with an iron grip. While it has never embraced western style democracy and any attempt to do so has been repressed, it has made enormous strides in most areas. My recent interest is a family member doing her medical degree in China and before that in my latter years as a computer expert seeing how it had fully embraced modern telecommunications, and seeing in recent years it gain all sorts of economic and political footholds throughout the world in various enterprises. Two unforgettable China events was its brutal crushing of the student uprisings in 1989 and its taking over of Hong Kong from the British in 1997. One of my interests is the church in China, which Mao sought to eradicate and almost succeeded, but now has in excess of 50 million members and is reckoned to be vibrant despite often being forced underground.
It is interesting to see the reports of the President’s visit currently taking place and how he has been given the royal treatment (in fact staying as the personal guest to our Queen) and with full deference (check out here and here). Understandably, David Cameron is excited about the visit because of the potential trade benefits to the UK despite the recent announcements of job losses in the British steel industry that some argue have played into China’s hand (see here) and despite China’s poor human rights record (see here). Interestingly, top China sources have praised George Osborne for not raising this issue on his recent visit to China but warned Jeremy Corbyn against doing so (see here). One of my Facebook friends disdainfully commented: “One of the purposes of the Chinese visit is to congratulate Cameron for aiding the closure of the UK steel industry in favour of the cheap and inferior Chinese product. This man (Cameron) will not stand up to China because he was part of the damage which has choked the life out of yet another UK industry. This man serves his masters in Saudi, China, the arms industry, big oil and let’s not forget, the banks!” Another has pointed out a story: “According to The Times today, the UK’s spooks spend a huge amount of time protecting the nation’s nuclear plants from cyber-attacks by the Chinese. The Tories have to be the most stupid political party in history”. China investment in building new nuclear energy plants have been welcomed by the government but there are those who regard the prospect with distinct foreboding. The Guardian article: “This nuclear power deal with China is one of the maddest ever struck” relates and touches upon some concerns. As for China’s dismal human rights record, and its clamp down on dissent, today’s Telegraph report makes for salutary reading.
As I reflect, I try to balance the need to foster good relationships with countries like China, despite deep ideological differences, recognizing both the value of doing so and the common ground we share and (perhaps cynically) the opportunity to provide a much needed boost to the UK economy. Notwithstanding, there is a place to act diplomatically, but that our government has to fawn and grovel to those who oppress their own people, especially those who fail to toe the party line, and it no longer visits dissidents like the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for fear of offending the Chinese government, rather grates. We conveniently overlook some of its more dubious practices and fail to challenge China on its human rights record (so much for ethical foreign policy), illustrating the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of a UK government that seeks to promote British values yet ignore such violations (not that Labour would have fared better in this regard, I fear). Even putting ethics aside, I question the government’s wisdom. That it can no longer call the tune, and politics also aside, this shows how Britain’s standing in the world has fallen and its influence for good has diminished.