Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China

On China, is Mr Cameron taking over the mantle from Mrs Thatcher, when she annoyed the country over negotiations on the handover of Hong Kong?

Our guest writer is Sonny Leong, chair of Chinese for Labour

“We will work to establish a new ‘special relationship’ with India and seek closer engagement with China, while standing firm in human rights in all our bilateral relationships” – so says the Lib-Con Coalition Agreement. What is the difference between ‘special relationship’ and ‘closer engagement’? Is one more supreme than the other? Or is this the ‘new politics’ of the new government in pitching India against China? Is Mr Cameron taking over the mantle from Mrs Thatcher, when she annoyed China over negotiations on the handover of Hong Kong?

In the first Leaders’ debate, David Cameron cited that Britain must spend almost £100 billion to maintain its independent nuclear deterrent as “we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran [and] we can’t be certain of the future in China”.

To talk about China – a permanent member of the Security Council – in the same breath as a rogue state like Iran is an insult to the people of China and the Chinese community in the UK. China and the UK have a strong relationship that is important to both countries’ economies and cultures.

In the final debate, Mr Cameron had a go at China again by saying:

“It’s no policy to just borrow from the Chinese and buy goods made in China.”

Is this the sort of language we expect from a British prime minister? Globalisation and liberalisation of trade laws have allowed Chinese goods to be imported and sold in the UK at prices many can now afford and enjoy. British companies have also been flocking to China to have their products manufactured there; surely, this is not China’s fault.

Much has been written about the exploitation of Chinese people for their underpaid illegal labour and unfair working terms and conditions. The tide is changing, and the good news is that the government is closing down the bad old factories, with sophisticated and efficient facilities surviving. In 2006 they would have relaxed their restrictions on unions had the American Chamber of Commerce, backed up by the Europeans, not lobbied hard to stop it happening.

But as the quality of China’s goods get better, and more and more of the population take a share in the form of better wages and conditions, it loses its competitiveness in the markets. Some are already anticipating a time when Africa becomes the world’s workshop. Bilateral trade between China and UK is worth about £30 billion compared to £12.6 billion between India and UK, illustrating China’s worth as an important trading partner.

Broadly, there are two versions of responses to the rise of China; the first sees China more or less solely in economic terms – the ‘economic wow factor’. They are in awe of what those growth economic figures might mean for China’s position in the world. This response is guilty of underestimating what the rise of China represents. It is a victim of tunnel vision and represents a failure of imagination.

The other response, in contrast, is persistently sceptical about the rise of China – always half expecting it to end in failure. The argument is that it is impossible for China to sustain its transformation without fundamental political change unless it adopts Western model, it will fail. This argument is flawed from the outset for those that do not understand China from its traditions, values and cultures.

The rise of China and the decline of the United States will, at least during this financial and economic stage, demonstrate that China is prepared to play its role on the global stage, a full-hearted participant in the G20, the IMF and the World Bank.

As James Denselow in The Guardian explained:

“The reality is that Cameron forgot who the superpower is. There is vast disparity in power that cannot realistically be glossed over by banal rhetoric. Britain’s population is 4% that of China’s, and has armed forces of just over 240,000 compared with the vast Chinese People’s Liberation Army of over 3.4 million. Crucially, courting China will play a key role in dealing
with the pressing Iranian nuclear issue.

China is Iran’s biggest export partner, and sells it back refined oil. Time magazine urged Barack Obama this month to ‘replace US outdated ideas for dealing with China’ and ‘to move beyond cold war containment’.”

Sales of US Treasury bonds by China over recent months have ruffled feathers in Washington. Also, news of China reviewing their position on euro bonds sent jitters throughout the markets; and With sterling hitting a 13- month low against the dollar, the Coalition Government should be wary about what it wishes for.

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

29 Responses to “Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China”

  1. Claire Louise French

    RT @shamikdas: We've got a couple of gr8 foreign policy articles on @leftfootfwd this weekend: On China: & Europe: ht …

  2. DrKMJ

    Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China: via @leftfootfwd

  3. Roland M-Horne

    RT @shamikdas: We've got a couple of gr8 foreign policy articles on @leftfootfwd this weekend: On China: & Europe: ht …

  4. bruce findlay

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China:

  5. B Latif

    Given a choice #Britain would love to take on #China- CRAZY idea!
    #Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China:

  6. Malcolm Evison

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China

  7. Shamik Das

    We've got a couple of gr8 foreign policy articles on @leftfootfwd this weekend: On China: & Europe:

  8. Philip Cane

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China: <- Unbelieveable, no mention of Human R or Tibet

  9. Stephen NG

    Cameron, a mini Mrs. Thatcher, will fall in front of the People’a Great Hall in Beijing. The paradox of history repeats itself.

  10. Perlyn Leong

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China

  11. Hitchin England

    Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China: via @leftfootfwd

  12. mike

    didnt Cameron say we need the bomb to keep the Iranians an Chinese at bay during the TV debates (first)

    He probably doesnt even know where China is, just that it makes cheap clothes

  13. Modicum

    “We will work to establish a new ‘special relationship’ with India and seek closer engagement with China …is this the ‘new politics’ of the new government in pitching India against China?”

    I would have thought it uncontroversial that we cannot have the same kind of relationship with China, a brutal, authoritarian regime, as we have with the Republic of India.

  14. LockPickerNet

    Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China: via @leftfootfwd

  15. mike

    so why do we do business with China if so authoritarian

    dont you just love Capitalism

  16. Anon E Mouse

    Sonny Leong – I expect STRONGER words about China from our PM.

    Regarding China, one could argue that Labour has always supported brutal totalitarian regimes but people should expect more from this government. (I accept that people like Peter Hain have always supported freedom; re.South Africa but in general Labour has often been found wanting in this area).

    I want more explicit remarks from a British PM in criticism of the Chinese state – especially in view of Falun Gong and the like and I’m surprised you seem to be unaware of the plight of the people in that country.

    Leaving aside the state enforcement of child numbers, the execution of more prisoners that any other state on the planet, Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square, Google being surpressed and on and on I simply do not think it is acceptable that the only response from people in Britain is to criticise our Prime Minister for his mild comments.

    Peter Tatchell and the like should not be the only voice of dissent about the horrible regime that exists in China and Left Foot Forward should really think about the articles it publishes – you are showing tacit support here for a country that treats it’s people in a terrible manner…

  17. Anon E Mouse

    mike – Not only do we do business with some of the most awful regimes on the planet, remember how Tony Blair refused an enquiry into us selling arms to Saudi Arabia – that REALLY hit a new low for our country…

  18. Guido Fawkes

    I think we’re entitled to take a dim view of China for as long as it remains a one-party state that does not respect the human rights of its own citizens.

    I believe in world peace through world trade but would rather we were not defenceless against the Chinese dragon for the forseeable future.

  19. Shamik Das

    It probably should have been a pre-condition of the IOC’s awarding of the 2008 Games to China that it does more, much more, to reform its political system; however, we are where we are and anyone who saw the Newsnight reports from North Korea last week will tell you it’s not Beijing that’s the greatest threat to us or its own people, but Pyongyang.

  20. Anon E Mouse

    Shamik – Agreed on the IOC and North Korea but both countries are possible threats and to criticise the government, of any political persuasion, for stating why we need to consider China in possible defence of our country is simply petty and uncaring towards the ordinary people in China.

    We need MORE overt complaints from ours and every government at every opportunity – it really shouldn’t be left to a few activists in the West.

    Whilst I accept that Sonny Leong is entitled to his opinion I am shocked to see David Miliband state his support for China from your LFF link here:

    Not once in that letter from David Miliband does he mention the disgraceful record China has on human rights – it seems he is more concerned with garnering votes for the Labour Party than oppressed peoples elsewhere in the world.

    Now who do I support in the Labour leadership race? sigh…

  21. Fat Bloke on Tour

    If anyone other than Dave the Rave had said the same about China they would have been shredded over the gaffe. You know the story, young, impressionable, not fully understanding the situation …

    However that would have been normality, not the upper middle class establishment booster club that passed for media analysis and comment during the election campaign.

    Dave the Rave has an issue with China over the situation in Hong Kong. He has a family connection with the banking sectot there and obviously over the years he has picked up a less than glowing impression of China / Beijing from Gramps and Great Gramps.

    Ridiculous comment that will cost the UK dear in years to come.
    He really is a numpty when it comes to serious policy.
    There will be more.

  22. Anon E Mouse

    Fat Bloke on Tour – And here’s me thinking that despite your slavish, drooling over Gordon Brown and the Labour Party generally you would condemn a regime that oppressed it’s people – how stupid of me…

  23. Fat Bloke on Tour

    Anon E …

    You can’t force progress on China at the point of a Trident missile.
    Dave the Rave’s comments were pitiful to say the least.

    He was trying to justify a new nuclear deterent by doing a bit of shroud waving regarding the “Red Menace” from the east.

    Very 1950’s, just not very good politics or policy.
    It will cost the UK diplomatically.

  24. Anon E Mouse

    Fat Bloke on Tour – No one is saying you can force progress on China but because of MAD they can’t force their brutal one party regime on us.

    Cameron, like all other leaders should be far more vocal against the Chinese and North Korea and Zimbabwe and Iran… you get the point.

    Is there not a single ounce of you that cares about the plight of oppressed peoples in foreign lands?

    (I do actually see how you, as a supporter of Gordon Brown, would support state control of it people btw)

  25. Fat Bloke on Tour

    Anon E … aka “trot on the Wind up”.

    Who would be involved in the “MAD” scenario you talk about?

    Surely not the UK as we don’t patrol 24x7x52 to be able to target China, on top of that we don’t have the targetting data to be able to fire back if we were lucky enough to be in the right position.

    Consequently your argument sounds all a bit 5th Form circa 1980.

    Dave the Rave showed up his lack of depth on complex .

    You show your lack of depth on complex topics with your howling at the moon suggestion to get the gruesome foursome on-side. Also your choice of targets suggests you are really a bit of a neo-con at heart with “Hong Kong’itis”.

    Oppressed peoples in foreign lands, I love your concern for the middle class in Iran. How does it compare with your thoughts on South Africa when Mandela was in jail?

  26. Anon E Mouse

    Fat Bloke on Tour – Since when do we not patrol 24/7?

    Since when do ICBM’s not reach any target they are fired at (the hint’s in the title).

    They already have the “targetting data” as you call it – unless you are now trying to suggest cities can be moved? Moved?

    When did I mention the middle class in Iran?

    Dude I don’t know what tour you’re on but it’s time to come home – you’re with friends…

    …ya Numpty!

  27. Opinion: Reflections on UK-China relations under the new Lib Con Coalition Government

    […] commentators have speculated that by making a distinction in UK’s relationship with the two Asian giants, India and China, the […]

  28. jaqi

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cameron needs to tone down the rhetoric over China

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.