On September 29, in an interview with Channel News Asia, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who was appointed by new Prime Minister Liz Truss, said with typical British duplicity that the kingdom allegedly wants to normalize relations with the PRC. J. Cleverly, however, stressed that Beijing should play a major role in this process, specifying that China’s relationship with London will depend on Beijing’s compliance with global rules, such as those adopted by the UN and the WTO. Asked by journalists whether he shared Prime Minister Truss’ view of China as a security threat, Cleverly went on a demagogic rant referring to concerns about a number of Beijing’s actions, particularly its allegedly destructive activities in cyberspace and its failure to fulfil its obligations to the people of Hong Kong.
However, the apparent lack of sincerity in the words of a high-ranking British politician and the outright anti-Beijing attitude of the kingdom’s current political elite are confirmed by many politicians, including recent actions by London seeking to subserviently go with the flow of the White House’s anti-China strategy. For example, at the farewell ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II, the kingdom’s authorities wanted to ban the Chinese delegation from Westminster Hall, while issuing a special invitation to the de facto ambassador in London of Taiwan, with which Britain does not even have diplomatic relations, to sign a book of condolence.
Earlier, British MPs decided to phase out Beijing-run Confucius Institutes, replacing Chinese teachers from mainland China with teachers from Taiwan. There are currently 30 branches of the Confucius Institute in Britain, which is a network of cultural and educational centers set up by the PRC government to promote Chinese language and culture abroad. It is worth recalling that the country’s current Prime Minister, Liz Truss, spoke highly of these centers back in 2014 as Secretary for Education, pointing out that they would “put in place a strong infrastructure for Mandarin.” However, against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the US and the PRC, Chinese language centers have increasingly been criticized not only in the US but also in Britain, sometimes accused of trying to spy, sometimes of spreading Chinese political influence.
On August 17, Liz Truss, while still Britain’s Foreign Secretary, said that because of Beijing’s allegedly hardline foreign policy, G7 countries need to reduce technology exports to the PRC. “The country has an authoritarian regime, which raises profound security concerns for Britain and the rest of the world,” Liz Truss said at the time.
On September 29, British Secretary for International Trade Kemi Badenoch held an online consultation with US Trade Representative Catherine Tai to develop joint anti-China action, during which they confirmed their willingness to work together to counter Beijing’s allegedly non-market-based economic practices.
Noting the current very chilly relationship between London and Beijing, it is pertinent to recall that in 2015 British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping with tens of billions of pounds worth of deals and declared then “the beginning of the golden era” in bilateral relations. However, British-Chinese relations soon began to deteriorate at London’s initiative. In February 2021, London initiated a media scandal between the countries by revoking the broadcasting license of the Chinese channel CGTN amid the expulsion of Chinese journalists accused of espionage. It is also worth adding that during 2020, the British expelled three alleged Chinese spies who were working under the guise of journalists for various publications. At the same time, the British said they were ready to go further and move towards a policy of aggressive containment of the PRC.
Only seven years have passed since London’s claimed “golden era” in bilateral relations with the PRC, but today it is hard to find a country in Europe with a more hostile and complicated relationship with China than Britain. And it is London and the ruling Conservative Party, which proclaimed the “golden era” in 2015, that are the clear culprit of this situation and the attackers.
In recent years, the deterioration of relations between the two countries has also come against the backdrop of the ongoing British-Chinese confrontation in areas that are extremely sensitive to China, such as human rights and sovereignty. Britain has been actively involved in the so-called “Xinjiang issue”, demonstrating its zeal to “protect the rights” of the allegedly oppressed Uyghurs. “It is truly horrific — barbarism we had hoped was lost to another era being practiced today as we speak in one of the leading members of the international community,” Dominic Raab, the United Kingdom’s former Foreign Secretary, said in January 2021. Moreover, the British are not limiting themselves to verbal condemnation, but are also imposing sanctions and demonstratively monitoring companies operating in China (which have a turnover of over £36 million or $49 million) to ensure that they do not produce goods with the “slave labor” of the Uyghurs. “We must make sure that UK businesses are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang, and to make sure that the products of human rights violations that take place in those camps do not end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop in here at home,” Raab explained earlier.
London has not forgotten the Hong Kong issue either, periodically criticizing Beijing for alleged repression of residents of the former British territory.
In addition, a number of Conservative Party representatives are trying to revise Britain’s relationship with the Chinese Communists in an even tougher direction and, in particular, to push through a bill that would require Britain’s highest judicial authorities to determine whether that state is committing genocide before it can enter into a trade deal with another state.
Under the circumstances, even in Britain today there is no doubt that the number of conflicts in British-Chinese relations will steadily increase. And against this backdrop, the new British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s declaration of the kingdom’s alleged intention to “normalize relations with the PRC” is frankly frivolous and demagogic. That, in principle, has long been a characteristic of London.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”