Britain’s participation in the US-led ‘New Cold War’ is short-sighted and brings no benefit


Artwork: Tang Tengfei/GT

It seems like a long time now that George Osborne and Boris Johnson – then British Chancellor and Mayor of London respectively – spent a week in China as part of a “charm offensive” to promote strong economic ties between the two countries. Announcing in October 2013 that a Chinese firm would help renovate the Port of London Authority building and that China would work on Britain’s nuclear programme, Johnson said: “If it’s not an overture to China, I do not know what it is.

Two years later, then British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping were pictured relaxing in a South Buckinghamshire pub, eating fish and chips, drinking lager and chatting with the locals. The background music was very uplifting and upbeat, and the stage was set for the development of an increasingly close symbiotic relationship.

Of course, from the British perspective, the motivation to pursue good relations with China had very little to do with international solidarity or a hitherto suppressed penchant for socialism with Chinese characteristics; rather, the impetus was bare self-interest and economic common sense. Chinese investment, markets and manufacturing prowess were – and are – hugely important to UK businesses, which is why Carolyn Fairbairn, former chief executive of the Confederation of British Industry, said in 2020 that to protect “the future British jobs and prosperity, “Britain ‘cannot afford to isolate itself from China’.

And yet, a few years later, without any official announcement or obvious reason, the British position underwent a 180 degree turn. Britain was one of the first countries to succumb to US pressure to remove Huawei from its 5G infrastructure – an absurd act of economic and technological self-harm. Meanwhile, the British government has sadly added its voice to the anti-China propaganda war, imposing illegal sanctions against the fictional genocide in Xinjiang.

Britain joined AUKUS – a transparent attempt to extend NATO to the Pacific – and sent its HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier across the Taiwan Strait. Liz Truss, then foreign minister and now prime minister, recently compared the situation on the island of Taiwan to the crisis in Ukraine, saying that NATO and its allies “must ensure that Taiwan can to defend oneself “.

Ten years after the Obama administration began its “pivot to Asia,” which was widely understood to be a major expansion of the United States’ long-term campaign to contain and encircle China, the review of the British defense of 2021 announced a “tilt” towards the Asia-Pacific region. This sequencing gives some indication of the underlying geopolitics.

Vince Cable, former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, notes in his book China: get involved! : avoid the new cold war that the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the United States “will always trump the golden age” of relations between Britain and China. Cable observes that, particularly in the wake of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union and the resulting decline in trade between Britain and the EU, “the UK is desperate for a trade deal with the United States” and, for this reason, is more inclined than ever to agree with Washington’s foreign policy.

The situation is unlikely to improve with the changing of the guard at Downing Street, as the basic geopolitical dynamics have not changed. Widely seen as a “China hawk”, Liz Truss has vowed to classify China as a “threat” to Britain’s national security for the first time. In addition to her dumb attitude on the Taiwan issue, she recently accused China of “forced transfer of technology, intellectual property violations and unfair industrial subsidies” and, with an extraordinarily ironic disregard for the history of her own country, complained that China was engaging in “coercion and using economic power to achieve things.

The level of political chaos, economic crisis and popular discontent in Britain is such that there could well be a general election in the coming months and the Labor Party could come to power. Unfortunately, under the pro-NATO leadership of Keir Starmer, a Labor-led government can be expected to follow the foreign policy trajectory of the current administration. Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, called for ‘a full audit’ of UK-China relations and said it was a mistake for the Cameron government to develop ties as narrow as last August. Meanwhile, Labor has called for a “political boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

China may be a convenient scapegoat for the British government, but bashing China won’t help solve the series of crises Britain is currently facing around the rising cost of living, the increasing poverty, collapsing public services and a continuing failure to deal adequately with the pandemic.

The “new cold war” is an American project; it aims to consolidate and extend American hegemony. Although it will by no means succeed, its essential promise is to secure the leading role of US imperialism for the next century and beyond. As such, it is a project of the American ruling elite. Britain’s participation in this new Cold War is deeply myopic and will bring no benefit to the British people or the British economy.

The UK government would do well to recognize – as have other UK governments over the past four decades – that Britain can benefit greatly from its relationship with China. It is up to the people to demand, in the interests of their own well-being, that their political representatives maintain respectful, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with the People’s Republic of China.

The author is an American journalist, columnist and political commentator based in Prague. [email protected]

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