Designating China a ‘threat’ will be ‘diplomatic failure’ for Truss, will backfire on UK
Rolling out irrational policies against Beijing won't save a troubled Britain: expert
Published: Oct 12, 2022 11:35 PM
Pedestrians on their way to work cross London Bridge in central London on October 12, 2022. Britain's economy unexpectedly shrank in August after slender growth the previous month, hit by the cost-ofliving crisis and rocketing energy bills, official data showed Wednesday. Photo: VCG

Pedestrians on their way to work cross London Bridge in central London on October 12, 2022. Britain's economy unexpectedly shrank in August after slender growth the previous month, hit by the cost-ofliving crisis and rocketing energy bills, official data showed Wednesday. Photo: VCG

Formally designating China as a "threat," if eventually announced by the UK government, is seen by Chinese observers as a clear shift that London is abandoning its pragmatism and bowing to Washington's long-term pressure of being hostile toward Beijing. They also believe it would be a bad move and a "diplomatic failure" for the new Prime Minister Liz Truss, if being anti-China is a tactic to shore up her faltering premiership before the next election, as such a decision will strike a heavy blow to the UK's staggering economy and eventually further impinge on Truss's rule.

China is to be formally designated a "threat" to the UK in a rewrite of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's defense and foreign policy, the Guardian reported on Tuesday. Under Johnson, China had been categorized as a "systemic competitor" but the UK media said it seems like Truss wants to take a more hawkish stance quickly.

The information has not been confirmed by UK authorities yet, and the Guardian cited one insider who claimed the change could come "within days." Once announced, the re-designation will bring the UK's official position toward China close to its stance on Russia, currently classed as "the most acute threat" facing the UK, the report said. 

In response to the reports, Mao Ning, a spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at a Wednesday briefing that China's development brings opportunities to other countries, and by no means threats and challenges. "We hope the new UK government can view China and China-UK ties in a rational and objective manner. Subscribing to the obsolete mindset of "China threat" benefits no one and will eventually backfire. Such an approach leads nowhere," Mao said.  

Truss is facing a severe quagmire since the first tumultuous month she took office, with the government mired by party divisions and unrest in the country over her economic policy, which has seen the value of sterling nosedive, soaring borrowing costs and the Bank of England forced to bail out pension funds.

The new prime minister faces an urgent task that is to shore up her premiership before the next election, which must be held no later than January 2025, as the new government, which was only chosen by members of the Conservative Party, lacks sufficient representativeness, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times. 

Being tough on China may be a tactic Truss tends to use as the stance both caters for some political forces at home and pleases Washington, which is a "safe choice" for Truss, Wang said. 

Influential Conservative backbenchers in the UK on Tuesday night welcomed the anticipated move. Iain Duncan Smith, who is campaigning to be chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said a hardening of the UK's China policy was long overdue, the Guardian reported. 

In a broader sense, it reveals that the UK has eventually bowed to US pressure, and agreed to synchronize hostile policies on China. It has allowed ideology to override cooperation, said Chinese experts. They said what policies London will roll out if China is labeled a "threat" remains to be seen, but the damage to bilateral ties is unlikely to be reversed until the next election, if a policy change follows. 

Technology cooperation between the two countries will likely to take a hard blow considering the US' severe tech suppression of China, and some British politicians' hostility against China in this area, said experts. 

On Tuesday, Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, Britain's cyber intelligence agency accused China of trying to "rewrite the rules of international security," saying that Beijing is using its economic and technological clout to clamp down at home and exert control abroad.

In response, a spokesperson from the Chinese embassy in the UK said on Wednesday that "remarks made by the head of the British intelligence agency are full of prejudice and totally baseless." China's efforts to develop technology and promote international cooperation in science and technology are aimed at improving the life of the Chinese people and the well-being of humanity, according to the spokesperson. 

Li Guanjie, a research fellow from the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies, under the Shanghai International Studies University said that declaring China as a "threat" will be a diplomatic failure for Truss as such policies will exert heavy blow to two countries' economic, trade and people-to-people exchanges.

China is now the largest source of imports for the UK worth 63.6 billion pounds or 13.3 percent of all goods imports, according to statistics from the UK Office for National Statistics. There are about 144,000 Chinese students studying in Britain according to 2022 statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Authority, a number that is up 50 percent in just five years.

Bronwen Maria Maddox, director and CEO of think tank Chatham House wrote a piece published on Tuesday saying that "The UK cannot afford to talk about taking a tougher line on China - as the prime minister has already done - without clearly knowing what the economic impact would be and being sure voters are prepared to pay this price."

Britain's stance toward China has swung dramatically in less than a decade, from the "golden era" proclaimed by David Cameron in 2015, to a U-turn made by Boris Johnson who claimed it as "systemic competitor," and banned China's Huawei 5G equipment and services in the country. 

"Johnson's playing of the 'China card' has already met a dead end, and if Truss insists on continuing down this path, there will be a series of negative impacts… Truss's current irrational China policy will only backfire on a troubled UK,' Li said.