UK MPs’ report on ‘China threats’ shadow of Cold War
London ‘better off engaging with Beijing’ as US starts to ease tensions
Published: Jul 14, 2023 10:44 PM
China UK Photo: VCG

China UK Photo: VCG

The report by the UK's Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is a smear campaign against China filled with Cold War mentality, Chinese experts said on Friday, following the release of a China-related report that continues to hype up "China threat" at a time when bilateral ties are at a low due to the UK's provocation.

In a comment released on Friday, the Chinese Embassy to the UK urged  relevant British politicians to abandon the Cold War mentality and prejudice against China, stop spreading rumors to slander China, stop the "witch hunt" against China, and stop creating obstacles to the development of China-UK relations. 

Experts said considering the high degree of coordination between London and Washington in diplomacy, the wise choice for the UK would be to further promote engagement and cooperation with China, as Beijing and Washington are gradually resuming high-level contacts to ease tensions, so as to benefit its own interests as well as bilateral ties.

Released on Thursday, the 207-page ISC report said the UK is "severely handicapped by the short-termist approach" that has allowed China to penetrate "every sector of the UK's economy." It also accused the British government of failing to develop an effective strategy for dealing with "national security threats" from China, which has allowed their intelligence to aggressively target the UK, according to the BBC.

The report also accused China of "interference" in UK academia, targeting of industry and technology, investment deals involving China and China's involvement in the UK's critical national infrastructure.

It smeared China as having "stepped up its espionage efforts" in Britain, with civil intelligence officers "prolifically and aggressively" collecting human intelligence, and said it had "highly capable and increasingly sophisticated" cyber-espionage, Politico reported.

Mark Blacklock, an independent researcher and analyst with an interest in China, told the Global Times that the MPs' methodology was flawed, the process of research and analysis was questionable, and because of the composition of the ISC, and the witnesses it called to give evidence, it is the committee that should be attacked for defective findings, scaremongering language, and unsound assumptions.

The ISC's report is full of false smears against China by British anti-China MPs, who are seemingly picking a "cold war" fight with China, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

This game of accusing the other side of infiltration and espionage was a standard feature of the Cold War, and British politicians are old hands at it, Cui added

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday that the British Parliament's policy toward China is extremely conservative in general, and extremely enthusiastic in hyping the "China threat."

Li said there is a strong resistance within their party to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's flexible policy toward China. "They want to set the pace of politics with the pressure they put on the Sunak government," Li added.

The report was also published ahead of British foreign minister James Cleverly's possible China visit at the end of July. Citing people with knowledge of the plan, Reuters said on June 14 that Cleverly may visit China in July in a bid to stabilize the two countries' turbulent relationship.

Some moderate or flexible measures taken by the British government in its China policy have left conservative forces in the British Parliament dissatisfied, and they have tried to influence the effect of "enhanced contact and interaction" before a possible senior British official visits China, which is entirely destructive.

Preserver vs destroyer

Facing criticism that his cabinet's China approach is "completely inadequate," Sunak defended it as being "robust" and "clear-eyed" and not "complacent," according to media reports.

"We will continue to engage with China to preserve and create space for open, constructive, predictable and stable relations that reflect China's significance in world affairs and to ensure our interests and those of our allies are best advanced," Sunak said, according to Sky News.

In the UK's Integrated Review Refresh 2023 released on March 13, the British government updates its security outlook, saying that China poses an "epoch-defining challenge." However, it has drawn opposition from anti-China hawks who believe the tone should be tougher with words like "threat" in it.

Li Guanjie, a research fellow from the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies, under the Shanghai International Studies University, said that as Britain's national strength declines, some British hawks are eager to show its muscle on the international political stage to revitalize Britain's international influence, and after Russia, their target is China.

Britain has many internal problems, so China will certainly become an important target for British politicians to deflect from these problems, said Cui, "instability in China-UK relations is on the rise."

At a time when some British politicians are undermining China-British relations, China has been working hard to preserve the bilateral relationship.

On Friday, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng met with Jose Vinals, chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, in Beijing, saying that China supports companies from around the world, including UK firms, to achieve better development in China.

On July 6, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the "Icebreaking Mission" in China-UK trade, the Xinhua News Agency reported. In the 1950s, British entrepreneurs started the "Icebreaking Mission," which broke the ice in the West's trade with China.

UK-China economic and trade relations still have huge potential, and the "ice-breaking spirit" shown by visionary British businesspeople when they visited China 70 years ago is still worth learning from today, analysts said.

In a recent interview with the Global Times, Keith Bennett, vice chairman of the 48 Group Club, a London-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting trade between China and the UK, said there is great complementarity in technical, scientific, research and development (R&D) collaboration, as well as in education.

There is a divergence between political and commercial interests or views in the UK… Businesspeople want to have a good relationship with China and the politicians are not keeping pace with the sentiments of business, Bennett said.

Such sentiments have also emerged in the US. After Tim Cook, Elon Musk and Bill Gates visited China amid US politicians' call for "decoupling," high-level officials from China and the Biden administration began to have increasing contacts, a sign of a "fragile thawing."

The UK and US governments are highly coordinated at the diplomatic level, and the UK appears to be following suit after senior US officials visited China and made contact with the Chinese side, Li Haidong said.

So this kind of pressure from the British Parliament on Sunak is unlikely to force him to completely close the door on China any time soon, he added.

China and the UK have a very wide range of common interests, which means that when looking at and dealing with relations with China, the British government should not follow the "break up with China" mentality shown in the ISC report, but should use a flexible approach, Li noted.

Britain needs politicians with more gumption and vision, not narrow-mindedness, Li said.

If Cleverly's trip ends up happening and bilateral ties show signs of thawing, it will further show that the ISC report does not really matter, Cui said.