His­tory tells us we should trust China at our peril

Sunday Express - - DONATION COULD CHANGE A LIFE - By Marco Gian­nan­geli

IT’S A SOBER­ING thought that, within just 20 years, China will over­take the US to be­come the world’s largest econ­omy. And it’s a fact which hasn’t been missed by For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt. “Jeremy knows that by 2035 the world’s largest econ­omy will no longer be our spe­cial ally, the US,” said a source close to him last week. “It won’t even be a democ­racy and we have to pre­pare our­selves for this.”

This stark re­al­ity has left Bri­tain try­ing gin­gerly to keep its bal­ance on the tiger’s tail, as we strug­gle to find the line be­tween trade and real se­cu­rity fears. Trade is win­ning.

When David Cameron was still prime minister, he launched a charm ini­tia­tive with Bei­jing. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was af­forded an “ul­tra royal” wel­come dur­ing a rare state visit in which he was ex­tended lav­ish pageantry and a stay at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

The “kow­tow ap­proach”, as it be­came in­del­i­cately known, sought to reap the ad­van­tages of in­creased in­ward in­vest­ment.

Now, Brexit has taken China off the wish-list and placed it squarely in the to-do sec­tion.

For­eign Of­fice man­darins may in­sist the days of kow­tow are over but In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary Dr Liam Fox has made it clear that Bri­tain wants to boost ex­ports to 35 per cent of GDP af­ter leav­ing the EU.

Con­sider that, by 2030, China will have more than 220 cities with more than one mil­lion in­hab­i­tants – the whole of Europe will have only 35.

It’s lit­tle won­der that Hunt and Fox are so keen to re-ig­nite the cause of a “golden era” of trade with China once more.

In Au­gust, China con­firmed it was ready to “ac­tively ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of dis­cussing a top-notch free trade agree­ment” af­ter Brexit.

It prompted Mr Hunt to de­clare: “China and Bri­tain have very dif­fer­ent sys­tems but we do have a lot in com­mon, and we in the UK think the rise of China and China’s econ­omy and Chi­nese power can and must be a pos­i­tive force in the world.”

And in Novem­ber for­mer de­fence sec­re­tary Dr Fox led a del­e­ga­tion to China’s first in­ter­na­tional im­ports fair in Shang­hai, se­cur­ing con­tracts for Bri­tish busi­nesses worth more than £100mil­lion.

It will take a lot, it seems, to dis­cour­age this Bri­tish em­brace.

Theresa May’s in­sis­tence that Chi­nese in­volve­ment in the Hink­ley C nu­clear plant be paused was, well, just a pause. China Gen­eral Nu­clear Power Corp’s £18bil­lion in­vest­ment is back on track. The US, Aus­tralia and New Zealand have pub­licly banned Chi­nese tele­coms gi­ant Huawei from get­ting its hands on their 5G in­fra­struc­ture – that’s three members of the ex­clu­sive Five Eyes in­tel­li­gence club to which Bri­tain is for­tu­nate enough to be­long.

Yet, de­spite BT’s de­ci­sion last week to re­move Huawei from the core of its 5G plans, there has been no dec­la­ra­tion by the Gov­ern­ment.

And there have been warn­ings aplenty... A re­cent re­port by the US-China Eco­nomic and Se­cu­rity Re­view Com­mis­sion warned that Bei­jing could force Huawei and other Chi­nese 5G equip­ment-mak­ers to “mod­ify prod­ucts to per­form be­low ex­pec­ta­tions or fail, fa­cil­i­tate state or cor­po­rate es­pi­onage, or oth­er­wise com­pro­mise the con­fi­den­tial­ity, in­tegrity or avail­abil­ity” of net­works that used them.

On Thurs­day the US asked Canada to de­tain Huawei CFO Sab­rina Meng as part of a crimi- nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Also last week MI6 chief Sir Alex “C” Younger asked whether Bri­tain was right to ig­nore the cau­tion shown by our al­lies to­wards China.

While for­eign sec­re­tary in 1848, Lord Palmer­ston told the Com­mons: “We have no eter­nal al­lies, we have no per­pet­ual en­e­mies. Our in­ter­ests are eter­nal and per­pet­ual, and those in­ter­ests we have a duty to fol­low.”

This state­ment is of­ten used to show that prag­ma­tism will al­ways dic­tate pol­icy.

In 1949 Bri­tain be­came the first coun­try to of­fi­cially recog­nise com­mu­nist China, not be­cause it ap­proved of the regime but through fear over the fate of Hong Kong.

And now it has emerged that, fol­low­ing Theresa May’s visit to Bei­jing in Jan­uary, Bri­tain ex­tended China an ex­tra­or­di­nary li­cence to ex­port an un­lim­ited amount of radar and tar­get ac­qui­si­tion tech­nol­ogy – tech­nol­ogy that could aid China’s PLA Air Force to keep a hold of il­le­gally ac­quired is­lands and ar­ti­fi­cial atolls in the South China Sea.

CHINA’S new­est air­craft car­ri­ers con­tain Bri­tish com­po­nents which, an­a­lysts say, make them ev­ery bit as mighty as US flat-tops. If US ships are sunk by China in a fu­ture war over Tai­wan or the South China Sea, there is a real pos­si­bil­ity Bri­tish kit will have been used. What hap­pens then?

Palmer­ston, the fa­ther of lib­eral in­ter­ven­tion­ism, is be­ing mis­in­ter­preted. True, like Hunt and Fox he wanted to open China to free trade but it was partly to ex­port what he saw as good Bri­tish val­ues.

Bri­tain is de­lud­ing it­self if it thinks that China, even with its bur­geon­ing mid­dle class, will change its ways.

In Oc­to­ber Bei­jing ad­mit­ted it had opened “re-ed­u­ca­tion camps”, where more than two mil­lion Uighurs – eth­nic Turks – now lan­guish.

When Bri­tain protests, it is told to mind its own busi­ness.

Mean­while, Bei­jing marches on – with hu­man rights abuses, its il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of the South China Sea and its “Belt and Road” devel­op­ment strat­egy, which in­cludes the whole­sale buy­out of economies in Africa, and in­vest­ment loans on pun­ish­ing terms in Europe and Asia.

So we must care­fully re­assess our red lines with China.

There comes a time where prag­ma­tism and the need for short-term fi­nan­cial gains must give way to prin­ci­ple.

Fail­ing to strike the right bal­ance will cost us much more than pounds and pence.

SHAKE ON IT: Liam Fox with China’s vice pre­mier Hu Chun­hua in Au­gust

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