It would be bet­ter for China if UK stays in EU

For­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Blair also con­sid­ers it cru­cial for West to fol­low the mes­sages sent out by lead­er­ship in Bei­jing and im­prove its un­der­stand­ing

China Daily European Weekly - - COVER STORY - By AN­DREW MOODY in Lon­don an­drew­moody@chi­

Tony Blair be­lieves the UK will find it more dif­fi­cult to achieve a bet­ter trad­ing ar­range­ment with China than its ex­ist­ing one af­ter leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

The for­mer UK prime min­is­ter was speak­ing ahead of the visit by his lat­est suc­ces­sor, Theresa May, to China later this month, where she is ex­pected to lay the ground­work for a fu­ture free trade agree­ment be­tween the two coun­tries.

“Bri­tain will have to ne­go­ti­ate this free trade agree­ment over a pe­riod of years. I can’t see that it is go­ing to be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to ne­go­ti­ate with China on its own than with the whole of the Euro­pean bloc be­hind it,” he says.

“Any­thing we want to do with China, we’re per­fectly ca­pa­ble of do­ing in­side of the Euro­pean Union.”

Blair, look­ing lean and fit, was speak­ing in the spa­cious of­fices of the re­cently launched Tony Blair In­sti­tute for Global Change, whose aim is to pro­vide pol­icy and strate­gic ad­vice glob­ally.

He also be­lieves there will be down­sides for China of the UK leav­ing the EU be­cause Bri­tain has al­ways been an ally of the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy on a num­ber of is­sues, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to trade pol­icy and fight­ing Euro­pean pro­tec­tion­ism.

The EU has yet to reach a new trade treaty with China, al­though ne­go­ti­a­tions have been on­go­ing for more than a decade to up­grade the ex­ist­ing 1985 treaty, with mar­ket ac­cess to a num­ber of sec­tors re­main­ing an is­sue.

“From China’s per­spec­tive, it will have lost a key ally in the Euro­pean Union fight­ing pro­tec­tion­ism in Europe. It will be bet­ter for China if Bri­tain stays within Europe,” he says.

Blair has called for the UK to have a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the terms of any deal reached with the EU. Lead­ing Brexit cam­paigner Nigel Farage also said ear­lier this month that an­other vote would set­tle the is­sue for a gen­er­a­tion.

“The coun­try is per­fectly en­ti­tled to change its mind once it sees what the terms of Brexit re­ally are, and at the mo­ment we don’t know that terms are. We know that we voted to leave the Euro­pean Union, but we don’t know what the port of des­ti­na­tion is. And once you know that, you are able to then take a de­ci­sion as to whether it’s prefer­able to what we have.”

When UK In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox vis­ited Bei­jing on Jan 3, it was sug­gested that the UK might seek to join the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, the pro­posed new trad­ing al­liance, in­stead. The TPP’s mem­bers in­clude Ja­pan, one of the UK’s lead­ing trad­ing part­ners, and a num­ber of Com­mon­wealth na­tions

“It’s a some­what bizarre thing to think you are go­ing to re­place the trad­ing re­la­tion­ship with Europe with one with the Pa­cific. But on the other hand, if Bri­tain leaves the Euro­pean Union, it is go­ing to be ob­vi­ously look­ing for all the trad­ing re­la­tion­ships it can get.”

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, Blair says he was also im­pressed by Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Xi Jin­ping’s re­port to the 19th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China in Oc­to­ber, which her­alded Xi Jin­ping Thought on So­cial­ism with Chinese Char­ac­ter­is­tics for a New Era.

“It was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing speech from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent an­gles. It in­di­cated that China has the am­bi­tion to go now to the next level of de­vel­op­ment and au­thor­ity, and this is of big sig­nif­i­cance to the world.”

He says it is im­por­tant to fol­low in de­tail the mes­sages sent out by China’s lead­er­ship.

“One of the in­ter­est­ing things about the speeches of the Chinese lead­ers that I have learnt over time, is that they’re ac­tu­ally worth read­ing. I know this sounds a bit of an odd thing to say, but in West­ern pol­i­tics, lead­ers of­ten give speeches where, frankly, it is just sort of pol­i­tics.”

“There is a qual­ity of de­bate in China that takes place at the high­est lev­els of the po­lit­i­cal struc­ture that doesn’t hap­pen in the same way in the West.”

Blair first vis­ited China in 1988 and was prime min­is­ter when Hong Kong was re­turned to the main­land in 1997.

His sis­ter-in-law Katy, who is Hong Kong Chinese, made clear to him at the time that de­spite be­ing An­glophile her­self, the peo­ple of the for­mer colony saw them­selves as be­ing Chinese and wanted to be part of China.

“She’s a big part of the Chinese com­mu­nity here in the UK. So yes, I see it (China) from many dif­fer­ent an­gles,” he says.

Blair be­lieves many in the West do not com­pre­hend the scale of China’s achieve­ment since re­form and openingup, which has lifted 700 mil­lion peo­ple out of poverty and whose 40th an­niver­sary is be­ing marked this year.

“It is a re­ally sig­nif­i­cant event. If you were a West­ern stu­dent, you would study lots of things about the pol­i­tics of the late 20th cen­tury. You would study the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid. You wouldn’t prob­a­bly study in the same way, the open­ing up of China, and yet it sig­naled that China was go­ing on a new path of en­gage­ment with the world with the open­ing up of its econ­omy. The re­sults have been stag­ger­ing.”

Blair says China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive could be equally trans­form­ing.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing at a con­fer­ence in Xin­jiang in about 2013 when I first heard of it, and I re­mem­ber think­ing this is go­ing to be re­ally big and re­ally im­por­tant. It has got huge im­pli­ca­tions po­lit­i­cally, of course, as well as eco­nom­i­cally.

“This is a huge thing for China and, by the way, for all the coun­tries that are go­ing to be im­pacted by it.”

He says it is im­por­tant for the UK and other West­ern coun­tries to em­brace the ini­tia­tive.

“I would like to see us work out ways in which we can be part of this. We should ac­tu­ally be un­der­stand­ing. This is China ex­ert­ing the role that it will in­evitably ex­ert as it be­comes more pow­er­ful,” he says.

Blair also wel­comes other China moves, such as the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, and sup­ports the UK gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to be a found­ing mem­ber, de­spite the re­fusal by the United States to par­tic­i­pate

“The prob­lem with the West­ern in­sti­tu­tions is that they have be­come hope­lessly bu­reau­cratic. One of the rea­sons why there are African coun­tries who welcome Chinese in­vest­ment is that it tends to be much less bu­reau­cratic and much swifter to be re­al­ized.”

Blair says the real sig­nif­i­cance of China’s rise will have most im­pact on the gen­er­a­tion of his 1-year-old grand­child.

“One of the things I’m con­stantly ar­gu­ing with peo­ple is, you’ve got to un­der­stand China. If you don’t take ac­count of the role of China, its size, its im­pact, its lead­er­ship, it’s like hav­ing one eye closed. You’re not see­ing the world as it is now, and by the time my 1-year-old grand­child is of vot­ing age, it’s go­ing to be even more so,” he says.

Blair, 64, who left of­fice as prime min­is­ter in 2007, says he has no plans to re­turn to ma­jor of­fice, de­spite play­ing a very vo­cal role in the cur­rent Brexit de­bate.

“I’ve got no plans to re­turn to front­line pol­i­tics, but I want to be very po­lit­i­cally ac­tive. I’m very wor­ried about the West and its po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion at the mo­ment. I think this pop­ulism of the left and right is dan­ger­ous. I think if we end up be­com­ing anti-im­mi­grant on the right and anti-busi­ness on the left, we will do a lot of dam­age to our­selves,” he says.

He says his fo­cus is now on his in­sti­tute, whose work in­volves gov­er­nance, par­tic­u­larly in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries

“The rise of China is the sin­gle big­gest geopo­lit­i­cal change of the 21st cen­tury. There is vir­tu­ally no prob­lem in the world that can be re­solved with­out China.” TONY BLAIR for­mer UK prime min­is­ter


For­mer UK prime min­is­ter Tony Blair has called for the UK to have a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum on the terms of any deal reached with the EU.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.