‘For­got­ten man’ cham­pi­ons China ties

China Daily European Weekly - - COMMENT - Har­vey Mor­ris The au­thor is a se­nior me­dia con­sul­tant for China Daily. Con­tact the writer at edi­tor@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

His de­ci­sion led to Bri­tain’s Brexit con­tro­versy — but for­mer prime min­is­ter could create a more pos­i­tive legacy with his cur­rent pro­ject

What­ever hap­pened to David Cameron? The for­mer UK prime min­is­ter has been out of the pub­lic eye since he stepped down from the top job in the wake of the coun­try’s 2016 ref­er­en­dum on mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union.

Hav­ing backed the los­ing side in a vote that he him­self had en­abled, Cameron bowed out af­ter six years as head of gov­ern­ment at the rel­a­tively young age of 49. He has largely been for­got­ten by a Bri­tish elec­torate still di­vided by the un­re­solved con­se­quences of the nar­row Brexit vic­tory.

This month, the gos­sip and lifestyle web­site That’s Shang­hai claimed to have tracked Cameron down to a fash­ion­able nightspot in the Chi­nese city, pub­lish­ing a grainy video that ap­peared to show the for­mer PM and mem­bers of his se­cu­rity es­cort.

There is no real sur­prise there, as much of Cameron’s en­ergy since he quit pol­i­tics has been fo­cused on a ma­jor in­vest­ment pro­gram linked to im­prov­ing trans­porta­tion links along the routes of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. As a fre­quent vis­i­tor, he was also in Shang­hai back in Jan­uary to at­tend the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Ball and Lead­ers’ Fo­rum.

As prime min­is­ter, Cameron was a key pro­moter of closer UK-China ties and her­alded what he de­scribed as a “golden era” of bi­lat­eral ties at the time of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s state visit to the UK in Oc­to­ber, 2015. The two lead­ers were pic­tured en­joy­ing a pint of beer at a coun­try pub, in­stantly mak­ing The Plough in Buck­ing­hamshire the most fa­mous pub in Bri­tain.

They also met at the time of Cameron’s Jan­uary visit to China. Cameron has taken a lead­ing role in the new £750 mil­lion ($977 mil­lion; 841 mil­lion eu­ros) UK-China Fund, a pri­vate in­vest­ment ini­tia­tive to fund im­proved port, road and rail in­fra­struc­ture.

When Cameron’s for­mer cab­i­net col­league, chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer Philip Ham­mond, vis­ited China for trade talks in De­cem­ber last year, both sides wel­comed the ini­tia­tive.

“The fund will be led by a num­ber of in­sti­tu­tions in the UK and China, with the in­volve­ment of for­mer prime min­is­ter, the Rt Hon David Cameron, and will be es­tab­lished and op­er­ated on a com­mer­cial and mar­ket-ori­en­tated ba­sis,” ac­cord­ing to a joint state­ment.

The fund would in­vest in in­no­va­tive, sus­tain­able and con­sump­tion-driven growth op­por­tu­ni­ties in the UK, China and other mar­kets to create em­ploy­ment and boost trade links, sup­port­ing the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, the state­ment added.

As an ini­tia­tor of the “golden era” strat­egy of UK-China re­la­tions, Cameron is well placed to ad­vance a pol­icy of closer ties at a time when such part­ner­ships will be of in­creased im­por­tance to a post-Brexit Bri­tain.

At home, how­ever, Cameron’s po­lit­i­cal legacy is still dom­i­nated by the ref­er­en­dum. The los­ing “re­main” side still cas­ti­gates him for al­low­ing a vote that they saw prin­ci­pally as a gam­ble to re­solve di­vi­sions be­tween his rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive party. “Leave” vot­ers re­mem­ber him as the leader who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cam­paigned for the UK’s con­tin­ued EU mem­ber­ship.

There has been much an­tic­i­pa­tion over Cameron’s de­ci­sion to pub­lish his po­lit­i­cal mem­oirs that would give the in­side story of the po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions sur­round­ing the Brexit vote. A tell-all book would cer­tainly to put the al­most for­got­ten prime min­is­ter back into the pub­lic spot­light.

How­ever, with the coun­try still em­broiled in a bit­ter dis­pute over the terms of the UK de­par­ture, Cameron has de­layed the planned au­tumn pub­li­ca­tion of his book un­til next year, by which time the UK is sup­posed to have left.

A friend of Cameron’s told a Bri­tish news­pa­per that sec­tions of an early draft on Brexit and his per­sonal life were “very good”, but sec­tions “where he tries to ex­plain his achieve­ments as prime min­is­ter are pretty dull”.

Maybe Cameron should drop the book idea al­to­gether. It may be that his best prospect of po­lit­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is as a cham­pion of suc­cess­ful fu­ture UK-Chi­nese ties rather than by rak­ing over the em­bers of Brexit.

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