Sunak puts tough words on China, but some Britons still think it is 'soft': Global Times editorial
Published: Nov 30, 2022 01:05 AM
Rishi Sunak leaves from an office in central London on October 23, 2022. Photo: AFP

Rishi Sunak leaves from an office in central London on October 23, 2022. Photo: AFP

On November 28, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivered his first foreign policy speech since taking office, and the part on China policy received the most attention. Sunak said China "poses a systemic challenge" to British values and interests. This statement, although groundless and negative for Chinese people, was met with some criticism in the UK because Sunak did not formally classify China as a "threat" to the country. Critics believe that this is a "soft" stance and an "appeasement" on China, which is a "big mistake." The extreme mentality of these people toward China is evident.

In just a few years, the UK has turned China-UK relations' "golden era," which was proposed by itself, into what it is today, and even "China poses a systemic challenge to the UK" is seen as "softening." It can be told that the radicalism in British politics has gone out of tune. How did this astonishing change in the UK happen? How did this radical attitude toward China gain the upper hand at Downing Street? What catalyst caused this huge chemical reaction in British politics? Studying these major issues related to the future and destiny of the UK, we will find that some politicians' narrow-mindedness and emotional cognition of China always have a lot of influence at the key links. The external influence from Washington has also played a role.

Sunak's two predecessors, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, had successively defined or planned to define China as a "systemic competitor" and a "threat." Anti-China MPs in the UK have been exerting strong pressure on Downing Street, trying to pin China to a "threatening" hostile position on the map of the Prime Minister's office. Sunak's calling China a "systemic challenge" should be considered as a "middle number." He has become more ideological than his previous pragmatic attitude toward China, while at the same time maintaining a certain distance to the most radical propositions. So although the accusations against him seem to be absurd, they are not surprising.

As for how China "posed a systemic challenge" or even "threat" to the UK, it was basically conjectured by some British politicians. They just say it, without having any rigorous investigation or demonstration, which is very irresponsible. It is not only the tragedy of the once global empire, but also will surely make the country pay a painful price. If Britain's foreign policy, especially its China policy, is increasingly being controlled by them, the decline of Britain's international status and influence will be further accelerated. Sooner or later, the country will have to reflect deeply on this lesson.

In fact, the space for mutual benefit and win-win between China and the UK is still broad. The complementary structure in the economic and trade field has not changed, and the need for multilateral cooperation on global issues also exists. China is still the same China that is committed to opening up and cooperating with the outside world, and its expectations for China-UK relations have not changed. An intuitive example is that despite the impact of many unfavorable factors, China-UK economic and trade cooperation has been on the rise, and even bucked the trend in many fields. In 2021, the bilateral trade volume between China and the UK set a new historical record. The two countries have also maintained multilateral interactions in the fields of climate change, global health and anti-terrorism. Both sides need each other. As the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak is clearly aware of these, but the cautiousness he has shown cannot even be called "keeping the balance," but more like being squeezed by the negative energy of partisan struggle and political polarization. This is the tragedy of British politics. 

In the past two years, the British government has continuously adjusted its position on China, reflecting the confusion of its foreign policy. This kind of chaos resonates almost at the same frequency as the internal confusion brought about by Brexit. It first reflects the collapse of Britain's self-confidence as an old empire. Unable to solve various internal and external difficulties, extreme anti-China has become a life-saving straw for some politicians. On some issues about China, London's stance is even more radical than Washington's. It seems that if it does not do so, the UK will not be able to prove itself. The result, however, is that people see a sensitive, fragile and narrow-minded Britain, which is more like a pawn to do Washington's dirty work. It seems that this state of affairs will continue for some time, and in dealing with the UK one has to consider these factors. But this is mainly the UK's own problem, and it is the British who ultimately pay for it.

In general, Sunak shows more rationality than Truss toward China, or at least has a different tone, but we have not seen much effort by him to reverse the misguided tendency of the UK toward China. But his term has just begun, and the outside world still needs to listen to his words and watch his actions. We hope that whoever is the British prime minister will not be held back by various radical forces. Because the wrong views of those politicians, after being amplified and fermented by public opinion, are poisoning the British public opinion environment on China like poisonous mushrooms growing in the dark, and poisonous mushrooms are not to be eaten.