Debate Magazine

How Should We Respond to the Anglo-Chinese “Golden Era”?

Posted on the 23 November 2015 by Shahalexander

Britain hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping last October to hail the dawn of the “Golden Era” between two countries (“China, Britain to benefit from 'golden era' in ties – Cameron”; Reuters; October 18, 2015). Meanwhile, human rights activists denounced Chinese oppression in Tibet, and the Royal family treated Xi sarcastically (“Chinese president meets Queen as anger over human rights and steel overshadows state visit” Daily Express; October 20, 2015). But from a policy perspective, the most critical concern is the security implication of nuclear plant construction in Bradwell and Hinkeley Point. Before exploring our response to the Anglo-Chinese nuclear deal, I would like to the background of British foreign and domestic policy.
To begin with, we have to understand Britain’s foreign policy rebalance. Currently, British media talk about Brexit as Prime Minister David Cameron suggests a national referendum to question EU membership (“EU referendum: Brexit will become a real danger if David Cameron fails to secure reform deal”; Independent; 9 November, 2015). Britain has been frustrated with immigration problems within the Union, and explores more market opportunities in the emerging economies, particularly in Asia, rather than in the Eurozone. This is nothing strange in view of Britain’s traditional ties with Commonwealth nations, and some of them are leading emerging markets, including India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, and Nigeria. While the United States talk about pivot or rebalance to Asia, Britain is initiating reprioritization to Asia. This is typically seen in Cameron’s salesman diplomacy when he visited India in 2013 to accompany a huge business delegation (“Cameron bats for British trade with India”; Financial Times; February 18, 2013). Despite notorious handling of Muslims in the Gujarat riot in 2002 as the Chief Minister, Cameron courted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for investment on his visit to the United Kingdom (“Cameron to welcome Modi to UK despite misgivings by Indian Muslims”; Financial Times; July 12, 2015). Human rights activists may blame Cameron, but his diplomacy was already “market-oriented”, before Xi’s visit to London, and it is loyal to Britain’s historical instinct.
In order to assess the controversial business deal with China, we need to understand how Britain sees her global position, particularly between Europa and Asia. This October, Chatham House released a policy paper, “Britain, Europe and the World: Rethinking the UK’s Circles of Influence”, and mentions three challenges to British foreign policy: globalization and intensified economic competition; diversified threats from geopolitical tension with Russia and China to the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East and around the world; and structural reform of aging multinational organization from the United Nations, international financial institutions, NATO,and the EU. In view of these challenges, this paper says that Britain must adapt to the trend of the US-China power balance. Then,we need to explore how Britain is making an adjustment.
As the Cameron administration sees the Bretton Woods system need to be revised to live up to the change of power balance in this century, Britain advices China how to internationalize remimbi. Quite importantly, Britain’s exports to BRIC and MINT countries grow stagnantly, only those with China surges twofold from 2011 to 2014. Though the US-Chinese clash in the East and South China seas is a security concern, Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, points out that Britain has different interest and capability over China from those of the United States as mentioned in the event video below, taken on October 19. The focal point of his argument is to keep Britain influential. In postwar British foreign policy, the United Kingdom assumes itself a hub to connect three circles of the United States; Europe; and the rest of the world such as the Commonwealth, the Middle East, China, and Japan. However, Niblett says that Britain’s role as the transatlantic connecting bridge is fading, as America keeps more eyes on the Baltic states to contain Russia, and Britain is out of the Eurozone. In addition, Niblett comments that erosion of international organizations like the United Nations, Bretton Woods banks, and the G7, poses critical constraints to British influence in the word as she is a key stakeholder of these organizations. Therefore, he argues that Britan needs to deepen relations with China to rebalance foreign policy priority and rebuild international organizations.
Nibletts’s view is founded on such deep analyses and sober realism, but still, I have to raise an objection to Britain’s excessive engagement with China. Historically, Britain embraced rising powers to maintain global influence. During the Victorian era, Marquess of Salisbury explored to maintain good relations with both America and Germany. But that did not last as Germany grew antagonistic later. From this point of view, we must question to the Anglo-Chinese golden era. Britain’s membership to the Asian Infrastrucrure Investment Bank may have a ground to some extent, in view of the Chatham House paper and Niblett’s comment. The risk and security implication and of the nuclear deal is far greater than that of AIIB membership.
Also, we have to pay attention to the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne within the Cameron administration that overrides security and environmental concerns with the nuclear deal. When he visited China this September to boost bilateral trade, China thanked him for not mentioning human rights so much (“Osborne praised for 'not stressing human rights' in China”; BBC News; 25 September, 2015). Remember Osborne drove Britain to join the Chinese led AIIB (“George Osborne talks up growth on visit to Beijing”; Daily Telegraph; 20 September, 2015). Nigel Inkster, former director of operations and intelligence at MI6, warns of Osborne’s view to seize a huge market opportunity in China. Meanwhile, Osborne wants infrastructure investment from China, in addition to boosting bilateral trade. Due to partisan politics in Westminster, Tory MPs are reluctantly dragged into the initiative of the Osborne Doctrine (“China and 'the Osborne Doctrine'”; BBC News; 19 October, 2015). The underlying idea of this doctrine is that it is Britian’s imperative to be connected with rapidly rising China if she were to stay as a key player on the global stage. This is the vital reason why he wants Britain to be China’s best friend in the West (“An interview with George Osborne”; September 24, 2015).
The chasm between Osborne and Inkster may reflect policy priorities of the Cameron administration. While Cameron is enthusiastic to boost British trade and investment, he has sacrificed her defense for the sake of budgetary rationality as typically seen in Russian intrusion to the Scottish air sea sphere. General Raymond Odierno of the US Army raised a critical concern with this, which upset Westminster this March. Actually, Britain’s defense spending is falling, though Cameron boasts that his country attains NATO target of the GDP 2% guideline (“Britain's Promise to America: We'll Spend 2% on Defense”; Motley Fool; July 25, 2015).
While the nuclear deal with China reflects Brexit moves, we need to notice French involvement behind the curtain in this. Prior to the Anglo-Chinese deal, EDF (Électricité de France) and CGN (China General Nuclear) signed an agreement for further cooperation to build fuel processing and recycling facility (“China, France further strengthen their nuclear cooperation”; World Nuclear News; 1 July, 2015). It is EDF that helps China build Bradwell and Hinkeley Point nuclear plants (“Chinese investment in British nuclear power is fueling concerns”; Washington Post; October 20, 2015). Nuclear technology is a sensitive issue of national security, but Chinese utility companies are penetrating into Europe much earlier than commonly expected.
In order to manage this problem, we should appeal to the British people who share common anxieties like the environment and security. Particularly, nuclear safety is a globally perceived issue after the Fukushima shock. While China wants to use the power plants for their industrial showcases in the West (“Osborne expected to back Chinese nuclear power station in Essex”; Guardian; 21 September, 2015), British environmentalists and local residents worry whether Chinese companies abide by Western standards to preserve the ecology of the Bradwell estuary (“Chinese-built reactor at Bradwell could have 'major impact' on estuary”; Guardian; 19 October, 2015).
More critically, CNG is closely tied with the People’s Liberation Army as many Chinese companies are. Chinese engineers can steal sensitive advanced technology through hacking or traditional styled espionage. Remember, Putin’s secret agent lurked in Russian communities in London to kill Alexander Litvinienko. Bradwell and Hinkeley Point plants can become Trojan horses to accommodate Chinese spies for another Litvinienko poisoning. It is too well known that China stole F35 information from BAE Systems (“After latest F-35 hack, Lockheed Martin, BAe Systems, Elbit under multiple cyber attacks….right now.” Aviationist; March 14, 2012). It may a tip of the iceberg, and China could have hacked furthermore information from BAE Systems, like the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier and numerous missiles. As a former MI6 official, Inkster points out that China will take advantage if they find weakness on the British side, as they are so hard power oriented and self interested. Osborne and Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond argue that Britain will exert influence on China behind the closed door, but things will not go so easily as they say.
This nuclear deal is contradictory to Britain’s recent action with the United States, NATO allies, and Japan, to persuade Turkey and South Korea not to buy HQ-9 anti-air missiles from China for fear of security information divulgence. Why does the United Kingdom have to solicit China to build controversial nuclear plants? Britain is a world leader in science and technology, and the public takes pride in it even during the British disease era. As proven in the Astute class submarine, Britain has advanced nuclear industry. Why doesn’t the government sign up with home companies to employ British engineers? This is more logical to create jobs and stimulate the economy through public investment.
We have to raise these environmental and security concerns with the nuclear deal to Cameron and Osborne, in resonance with domestic opponents in the United Kingdom. Particularly, Osborne is the front runner to succeed Cameron’s premiership, and he drove Britain to turn the China policy from Cameron’s meeting with Dalai Lama in May 2012 (“The one chart that shows how George Osborne is almost certainly going to be our next Prime Minister”; Independent; 2 September, 2015). Both the United States and Japan must send a strong reminder message to Osborne, as all Western allies did to Turkey and South Korea over the Chinese air defense system. Though Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn denounced China for human rights violation, his party was critically damaged in the last general election, and lost their traditional electoral bases in Scotland to the SNP (“Election 2015: SNP wins 56 of 59 seats in Scots landslide”: BBC News; 8 May 2015). It is quite unlikely that they replace Cameron. Chinese influence on Britain can grow furthermore. Therefore, we must ask Osborne to explain his vision of British and global security. Also, the French connection through EDF must be questioned. China’s penetration in Europe is quite deep, and PLA influence on nuclear security must be removed or minimized before it gets too serious. Finally, I would raise a question whether Japan can replace China to represent the rest of the world, if British policymakers conceive their transatlantic position is eroding so seriously. Ultimately, it is Japan that can share security burdens with Britain, not China. In science and technology, the Anglo-Japanese partnership will bear more fruit than the Anglo-Chinese one. We should be much more alert to this dangerous nuclear deal.


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