UK shifts China policy for national interests

By Zhao Chen Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-19 22:13:01

Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the UK on Tuesday, the first of such since his predecessor Hu Jintao's in 2005, has drawn extensive attention from both China and the international community. From high-speed rail to nuclear power cooperation, major achievements are expected from this visit, which might herald, like British Prime Minister David Cameron said, a "golden time" of bilateral relations.

The Sino-UK relationship has a low ebb in 2012, when Cameron officially received the Dalai Lama regardless of China's protests. However, realizing the repercussions of irking China have outweighed the fallacious feelings of morality on certain controversial and sensitive issues, and the Cameron government has gradually felt out the way of managing a reciprocal relationship with China.

The UK has apparently shifted its China policy to a pragmatic direction, the extent of which is rarely seen in the Western hemisphere.

Aware of the subtle global changes with China's escalation of being a major drive of global economy and an important player in international affairs, the UK has made a judicious decision to go with the tendency in an effort to gain more benefits. London did not only claim to be China's "best partner in the West," but by joining China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank despite its Western peers' concerns, it is willing to put more faith in China leading regional governance that also has a global influence.

In fact, as well the UK, the entire Europe is re-calibrating its attitude toward China. But due to its abundant diplomatic experience and an administration basing its national interests on pragmatism, the UK is getting the upper hand over its Western counterparts in finding common ground with China.

George Osborne, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, has taken the lead in this transformation. His emphasis on the revival of the British economy is reinforcing his leverage in diplomatic decision-making. Downplaying the role of trivial issues such as religion, human rights and democracy in bilateral ties is necessary for a win-win result.

The UK's open arms toward China have undoubtedly upset the US, which has a "special relationship" with the UK. Analysts argue that a closer Sino-UK relationship might cause more frictions in this alliance.

The Cameron government must have realized that the US is in relative decline as China is narrowing its gaps with the US. It is time for the UK to assume a more neutral position between the US and China instead of heavily relying on one side. The strategic balance, achieved among the US, China and the EU, serves the best of the UK.

By appearance, London's embrace of China was not expected by the US, which still harbors strategic mistrust toward China, reflected by its strong positions over the South China Sea disputes and cyberspace security.

But in the long run, if the UK and China can develop a stable reciprocal approach of cooperation - the first one between China and a major Western country, the US will also benefit. In some sense, the UK's embrace of China and China's interaction with the UK are aimed at exploring a truly positive framework of interaction between China and the West. An updated Sino-UK relationship, which can find shared benefits in not only bilateral ties, but in terms of global affairs, will be an example for other Western countries to follow.

Although uncertainties still linger, and both countries have gone through ups and downs in the past, the "golden time" still should be anticipated to last for at least for five years before the next British election. We hope the wisdom and pragmatism of both Chinese and British leadership will move the bilateral ties further toward an established norm.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of European Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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Posted in: Viewpoint, Xi visits UK 2015

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