With Johnson at helm, will China-uk ties turn?
Finally, the United Kingdom has a new prime minister – Boris Johnson. Just as it is with his predecessor Theresa May, the most urgent task awaiting Johnson is to complete Brexit, regardless of whether it’s a no-deal or renegotiated. Meanwhile, Brexit is not only about pulling the UK out of the European Union (EU) but also about managing the consequences to minimize damage.
The UK is in desperate need of new trade deals with other countries. China, with its economic power and market, is not a partner the UK should and can afford to ignore. However, despite its verbal promises, it has become harder to sense a willingness from the UK government to reinforce Uk-china relations now, especially considering the UK government’s recent actions over its reluctance to use Chinese 5G technology and its remarks on Hong Kong.
This raises the following question: Has the China-uk golden era, launched in 2015, already ended?
Against the backdrop of globalization, the UK and China have become mutually vital to each other. Economically, the UK is one of China’s best partners in Europe. On the one hand, it is China’s second-largest European trading partner. And on the other, the UK is the
EU’S top recipient for Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI), which includes stakes in infrastructure, major companies, and football clubs.
Over 155,000 Chinese students study in the UK. “They make a massive contribution to Britain and to our society. [There are] more Chinese students in London than any city in the world outside China,” said Johnson in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.
Owing to the reconfiguration of the world system, including unpredictable trade conflict between great powers and regional chaos, China is reshaping its strategies with the Western world. In the post-brexit era, the UK could possibly lose its earlier attraction to China. Its competitive advantages, compared with other European countries, have decreased. After Britain is outside the EU, countries like Germany, France, and the Netherlands, will compete harder to replace UK’S privileged role as “China’s best partner in the West,” as former chancellor George Osborne put it.
Before embarking on the next phase of the Uk-china relationship, Britain’s leadership should be aware that the game is no longer played to their advantage. If they cannot tackle the challenges they face, a deeper crisis in the near future is possible.
What should be done to strengthen and further develop bilateral ties between the UK and China?
First, the UK needs to react fast. It fits in with China’s agenda to strengthen strategic relations with the UK. But this window of opportunity will not always remain open or until the British government realizes its urgency. The UK faces serious competition from its European neighbors, which are keen on acquiring more trade deals with China.
Second, the UK should be warned against a diplomatic approach with British characteristics – a proclivity to smile at you and stab you in the back.
When it comes to Huawei, China is willing to deal with an open-minded British leadership, but not with one whose promises and behavior are unclear.
Finally, even though Johnson is willing to attach more importance to US-UK relations, the UK may not gain much through Washington’s influence. Global powers, like China, would build a resilient relationship with an independent partner who defends its own interests than a “yes-man” nation which takes orders from someone else. There hardly remains a chance the UK could please US President Donald Trump’s administration without harming bilateral relations with China. As the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The clock is ticking. Time is short before October 31, the new Brexit deadline. The new UK leadership needs to demonstrate its dedication and commitment to strengthening the Uk-china partnership sooner rather than later. It is also expected that the Chinese side will see a more reliable UK, which behaves in the spirit of pragmatism. It is only this way that bilateral relations could become more beneficial and see the golden era once again.