Will UK be the next Australia and inflict damage on itself?
Published: Feb 18, 2021 05:47 PM

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

In recent days, China-UK relations have been experiencing a downward trend. Under the leadership of Boris Johnson, the UK has completely abandoned the diplomatic posture of David Cameron, under whom China and the UK kept the momentum of a "golden relationship." It has kept provoking China on a number of issues including Hong Kong, cultural exchanges and the media. Why is the UK, bogged down as it is with Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, taking a U-turn in its attitude toward China? 

US interference is an important external factor in the plummeting China-UK relationship. Meanwhile, a strong Cold War mentality and a long-existing colonial mind-set in the UK's political spectrum have formed the fundamental reasons behind the current China-UK confrontation. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and Brexit, the gap of national strength between China and the UK is widening, which will further trigger the UK's hostility toward China. 

Official figures showed last week that UK's economy shrank 9.9 percent in 2020. The OECD forecasted that the economic rebound in the UK for 2021 will be below the world's average level. Judged from UK's diplomatic traditions, London will not be willing to be in a passive position in its relations with Beijing. Therefore, it is bound to seek help from other powers to strike a strategic balance with China.

The UK's political spectrum believes that it has special interests in Hong Kong. It thus views the Chinese central government's policy toward Hong Kong as an intrusion of UK interests in Hong Kong. Since the national security law for Hong Kong was enacted last year and the Chinese central government took a hard-line approach against secessionists, anti-China forces in the UK have ratcheted up their moves against China. 

But the UK government knows that these moves will hurt itself more, and it is incapable of challenging China at the current circumstances. Therefore, it resorted to other "like-minded" Western allies and pushed for anti-China agendas. However, these allies, especially G7 members, do not see eye to eye on taking anti-China stances. The UK's attempt to rope in India, South Korea and Australia to form a D10 club during its host of the G7 summit has met with objections too.

On the surface, the UK desires for making "Global Britain" in the immediate post-Brexit era, but in fact the UK may just be rejoining the US embrace. Whereas US President Joe Biden is expected to strengthen trans-Atlantic ties and handle internal conflicts with Europe in a soft manner, the UK is likely to behave like a pawn of the US and exploit multilateral frameworks (such as the Five Eyes alliance) to enhance its discourse of power and influence in the Western camp. The possibility of the UK's participation in the QUAD cannot be excluded either.

Although the UK holds a positive attitude toward a China-UK free trade deal, there is no consensus on the importance of the Chinese market among the UK's political circle. The UK's economic and trade policy priority is still a UK-US free trade agreement. Moreover, the US role in constraining China-UK economic cooperation has become more and more prominent. China's status in the UK's overseas trade is not that magnificent, and that is why the UK dared to sacrifice its 5G cooperation with China - as a way to damage China's core interests.

If we observe the UK's current political climate, the present UK government has degraded into a wandering and confused opportunist. It is riddled with a rigid and outdated mentality in its entire political circle. Politicians are only interested in making spectacles and offering empty promises instead of really caring about the UK's long-term strategy. This has been the main feature of UK politics since it decided to quit the EU in 2016.

The UK is behaving more like Australia now - blindly following the US to hurt China's interests while inflicting damage on itself. Many analysts believe that China has enough cards to play given its economic volume and development momentum. China will not sit still if its core interests are jeopardized. Apparently, the UK government has realized this and has not made any real provocations. 

If the UK continues to live with outdated mentalities of imperial fantasies, it will be marginalized in the international community. A series of moves of the UK have cost its international reputation. This will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

The author is a scholar at Shanghai International Studies University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn