There is no 'Global Britain' without China
The contest for the next leader of the Conservative Party, and by extension prime minister of the United Kingdom, has transformed into an ugly race to the bottom on who can "out hawk" the other and weaponize the most fear concerning China, for their own political gain.
Whilst Liz Truss has vowed to resist "China's malign influence" through building a "network of liberty," former Chancellor Rishi Sunak has branded it "the biggest threat to the prosperity of the United Kingdom" and levelled a number of accusations. One vows to attack TikTok, the other Confucius Institutes. How is that British politics became such a farce? And more so, how is that the UK has built a foreign policy which contemplating Brexit and anti-China antagonism, and is so out of touch with reality and the national interest?
The aspiring leaders of the United Kingdom love to talk about a so-called "Global Britain." This theme of a Global Britain is a euphemism for the discourse of post-imperial nostalgia. It is highly ideological and lingers back to a long-gone age where Britain controlled a global empire and with it espoused capitalist dominion and trade in its favor when it was itself the Global Hegemon.
Brexit harkens back to this by continually arguing the premise that Britain should embrace this "global" heritage and reject being locked down in Europe, which is seen as an affront to its national identity and sovereignty. Thus, it continually advocates themes of "free trade" and "entrepreneurship."
A changing geopolitical climate and interference from the United States, however, have further shifted the discourse of "Global Britain" to not just being about trade, but transforming it into a geopolitical, civilization and values-based struggle, of whom the primary target of (no longer seen as an opportunity) is China. This adds the dynamic of a "Britannia rules the waves" mindset.
Britain is framed as a benevolent and just nation which seeks to "rescue" countries from the so-called "malign and unwanted influence" of China. The leadership candidates, as well as the press, subsequently frame China's cooperation and ties with commonwealth countries as being illegitimate, and espouse the assumption that it is Britain's natural right to "dominate" these respective countries and that it is the only one who acts in their best interests.
However, is there truly a "Global Britain" so to speak, without China? British foreign policy is based on the self-defeating premise of having rejected closer ties with Europe, and now also rejecting ties with China simultaneously. From an economic and business perspective, this makes zero sense whatsoever.
Prior to US interference in Britain's foreign policy, outgoing prime minister understood the critical importance of China to Britain's post-Brexit vision. After all, there is nothing "global" about dismissing the world's largest consumer market of 1.4 billion people, the largest industrial and trading nation on Earth. This is strictly ironic as both candidates pitch their vision for governance as a free-trade bonanza, promising trade deals and free ports galore, but what use is any of that without China?
Who is going to buy more British products? Whilst Brexit has also been floated on the Anglophone exceptionalist dream of fostering a trade deal with the United States as per "the special relationship," this has failed to materialize as America's highly one-sided and protectionist demands have to be a non-starter. The consensus of "America First" has seen Biden reject all new free trade proposals.
Similarly, India, another favored target in the name of imperial nostalgia, is also highly protectionist and is about what it can sell, not buy, from Britain. Although the UK struck a free trade deal with Australia, this is effectively worthless in real terms with a House of Commons report stating it will only "increase UK GDP by 0.08 percent" over the next few years.
All of these choices illustrate how Britain is placing ideology and identity, over economic worth and common sense, in its post-Brexit vision. As it happens, the economic situation at home is also considerably worsening and inflation is surging. This might all stand as a reminder that China is not an enemy or a threat to the United Kingdom, but a critical economic and trading partner who acts as a pillar of British prosperity and commerce.
The demonization of the country by the respective candidates is short-sighted, opportunistic, motivated by domestic politics and does not have Britain's true interests at heart. There is no "Global Britain" without China so to speak.
(The author, a postgraduate student of Chinese studies at Oxford University, is a South Korea-based English analyst on international relations. The views are his own.)