China-bashing a tragedy for 10 Downing Street
Published: Jul 27, 2022 07:28 PM
UK Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

UK Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

April 7, 1840 is a day that the Chinese will not forget. On that day, the British Parliament debated issues related to China. Historians originally believed that it was that meeting that made the decision for the British to invade China. Later, a journalist investigated and found that British warships were already on their way to China at the time of the debate in the British Parliament. The British Parliament did not pass the appropriation for the military expenses of the expedition to China until July 27, 1840, after the outbreak of war. The facts show that the Opium War was initiated by the British government.

The reason why I thought of this is that I saw the two candidates for the British Prime Minister both use the "China threat theory" to denounce each other in their election campaigns in order to attract more votes. Their rhetoric is very reminiscent of the word "war," and reminds me of the Western media's portraying of the competition with China as "an ideological war."

The Opium Wars took place at the height of the British Empire's global expansion, a time when the greed and madness of capital was most fully revealed. For raw materials and markets, war was a necessary means to satisfy the empire's lust for treasure. Empire means war. The whole world was the object of its colonial plunder, and China was certainly not an exception.

This imperial hegemony and greed continued into the 1950s, even as late as July 1965, when then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said, " Our frontier is on the Himalayas." Historians generally agree that the Suez Canal crisis of 1956 confirmed the decline of Britain as a global power. And the handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, marked the formal end of the Empire on which "the sun never sets."

The end of an empire is the decay of power, but the end of its spirit is often not so quick. While Britain's prime ministerial candidates claim China as a major threat, there is still a strong sense of empire left on their mind. Rishi Sunak, the former British finance minister who is running for prime minister and head of the Conservative Party, said on July 24 that he would adopt a tough policy toward China if elected as the next British prime minister. He also said that China is the "largest threat" to British and global security this century. Another Conservative rival, Liz Truss, has accused Sunak of being "weak" on China.

Britain is now facing a serious crisis of falling into a recession, with inflation expected to hit 11 percent by the end of the year, and the British media estimate that the biggest problem for whoever becomes prime minister will be coping with the sharpest fall in real incomes in Britain since the 1950s. That the candidates for the British prime minister would now use China as an excuse to canvass votes is a testament to their inability to lead the country out of crisis. They are more like a spiteful complainer, pouring out their incompetence on others. Instead of trying to convince the public that they can make their country rise again, they are misleading voters with their self-made fears. This is the tragedy of British politics.

Today's China is on a completely different path from the rise of the British Empire. China's rise doesn't follow the road to imperialism. China overtook Britain and many developed countries to become the second largest economy in the world, without plunder and war. This is the essence of the "China model," a reality that British politicians, still steeped in the psychological delusion of the British Empire, are unwilling to accept.

Although their means of trying to contain China appear to have changed, their expansionist nature remains the same, making it impossible for them to allow China to compete with them on an equal and reasonable basis, and are resorting to more financial and economic means to contain China's peaceful global advancement. This is probably considered the last hysteria of the imperial psyche. The world has changed dramatically from the Opium Wars, when the British Parliament discussed how to open the gates of China, to today's UK does everything possible to curb the legal and peaceful entry of Chinese companies and influence without a single warship's accompany them to Britain. British politicians who pretend not to see this change because they don't want to accept it are doomed to take this country down a path that sees no light.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina