In February 2016, when Boris Johnson was still mayor of London, he wrote in the Telegraph that if the UK voted to leave EU, its government will be involved “many years of complex negotiations for new agreements” in trade and business with other countries. As Prime Minister, Johnson has significantly complicated this process by launching a public fight with China, one of the largest economic partners of the country.
Over the past few years relations between Europe and China has deteriorated. Beijing and Brussels are constantly faced with the problems of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and human rights violations in Xinjiang. Last year the European Commission called Beijing “rival system” in the document about the strategic perspective. When the spread of the pandemic Covid-19,the situation worsened.
Britain remained aloof from this struggle, declaring in 2015 “new Golden era” in relations with China. But recently Downing street with Johnson at the head became more aggressive on two issues: the Hong Kong and Chinese tech giant Huawei. Johnson is trying to restructure Sino-British relations after Brexit, and it is unclear what his leverage is, or who will fill these voids, if China reduces the scale of investment in the UK.
the British-Chinese relations
When Johnson took over as Prime Minister after Theresa may, he said that the attitude of his government would be “very Pro-Chinese”.
Since then, much has changed. The first important turning point was the trade war between the US and China. Britain had to choose whose side to take. From an economic point of view, the choice is obvious. In 2018 the turnover of the Washington and London reached £201.6 billion trade turnover with China amounted to only £68.3 billion this year exports to the U.S. amounted to 18.8% of total UK exports to China of 3.6%. USA was a major trade partner of Britain, China — the fifth.
at First it seemed that Britain is ready to challenge Washington at least one question: Huawei. The United States believes that Huawei is a security risk, threatening to hide intelligence from the countries which use the company’s equipment in the 5G networks. But despite intense lobbying by American officials, in January the UK government has refused to ban Huawei for their network.
Then began the spread of the coronavirus. There is evidence that Chinese officials have concealed information about the first cases of the virus in Wuhan, delaying the transmission of information about the virus who. Pandemic shed light on how much the world depends on Chinese factories, giving 85% of the world’s supply of face masks. She also made it clear that Beijing will use its economic power as political leverage: when Australia has called for an investigation into the origins of the virus, Beijing imposed duties on your barley and stopped buying meat from its main slaughterhouses.
as a result of in the UK has intensified already strong anti-Chinese sentiment. According to a survey of British Foreign Policy Group, only 18% of UK citizens trust the China, believing that he is able “to act responsibly in the world”, in January this number was 21%.
Downing street has also taken a more aggressive stance against China. According to reports, Johnson is developing plans to exclude Huawei from the British 5G network by 2023. Also the government is trying to expedite plans on a bill that will tighten control over the acquisitions of Chinese corporations. It happened once in April, British intelligence warned lawmakers that they need to limit Chinese influence in strategic sectors.
Another important turning point occurred in mid-April, when Beijing introduced a new law about security in Hong Kong, limiting the city’s autonomy. Separated from EU, UK announced that it will open up opportunities citizenship 3 million Hong Kong citizens who were born before Britain handed over the city to China in 1997. The Ministry of foreign Affairs of China has threatened “countermeasures”.
Some in the UK similar steps government is unclear. Brown lightly said the decision of Johnson “spill passports like confetti in Hong Kong”, “stupid move.”
the Future of British-Chinese relations
When he’s been campaigning for Brexit, Johnson presented his supporters with the vision of a “truly globalist Britain”, and it would depend on the country’s ability to strengthen financial ties with Beijing. Thomas de Garets Geddes, an analyst from the Institute of Chinese studies, Mercator, notes that “the prospect of an upcoming Sino-British agreement on free trade seems pretty distant”.
last year the UK was the second largest recipient of Chinese FDI. According to McKinsey, China is the largest consumer market in the world. It is expected that by 2022 the middle class of this country will rise to 550 million people.
Previously, Johnson has expressed interest in deepening economic relations with members of the Commonwealth group of 54 countries which were former British colonies. But brown argues that “in fact, it is unlikely that the Commonwealth will turn into consistent and cohesive market.” Attempts of great Britain to lay the Foundation for a bilateral trade agreement with India, the largest economy in the Commonwealth, has stalled.
Peter Lu, an expert on mergers and acquisitions, represents the interests of Chinese investors wanting to buy or invest in European companies. He noted that recent developments in British-Chinese relations has forced his clients to think. “It’s hard to invest in an unfriendly country, because confidence is very important in Chinese culture,” — he said.
Some argue that the aggressive attitude of Downing street — it’s just a distraction from internal problems Johnson because of his controversial work with prone to scandals senior adviser Dominic Cummings. But Geddes says that “growing aggression toward China in the political spectrum of the UK is very real and is unlikely to disappear in the near future.”
This is a strategic mistake, says brown. “If the economy is in such a bad position in a few months as it seems that the UK don’t have to choose with whom it deals. Beggars can’t be choosers”, he concluded.