Even a child would know that one cannot have a friendship with someone whilst simultaneously threatening them with lethal force. And yet, whilst Brexit Britain is very much in need of a dynamic trading partner like China, British Defence Minister Gavin Williamson has taken a bizarre approach to Anglo-Chinese relations. Speaking earlier this week, Williamson stated that Britain is prepared to use “lethal” force against China after threatening to send UK Naval ships to the Pacific. As a result, Chinese Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua cancelled his forthcoming trade talks with Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Philip Hammond.
Not only has China’s Ambassador in London made his feelings known, but members of the British Cabinet and other members of the ruling Conservative party have expressed their dismay at Williamson’s threatening remarks which have no place in the 21st century. Former Chancellor George Osborne went on record to express his dismay over the remarks whilst it has been reported that a UK government official responded in the following way to Williamson’s threatening remarks about China:
“His idiotic speech wasn’t received well in China”.
With the European Union proving to be a difficult negotiating partner for Brexit Britain and with both major UK political parties facing their own internal divisions on how to approach the Brexit question, threatening a much more militarily mighty and economically powerful China is the fastest way to alienate what could potentially be Britain’s most valuable trading partner in the very near future.
With the British Prime Minister’s time taken up by intensive negotiations with the European Union as well as with horse trading among members of her own party who have grown dissatisfied with her approach to withdrawing the country from the European Union, it appears that Williamson either intended to make things more needlessly complicated for Britain than they already are – owing to his well known rivalry with the British Premier – or otherwise, he merely possesses a supremely ignorant colonial mentality that has lead him to think that the era of unequal treaties has not ended long ago.
Whilst Britain, continental European empires and Japan inflicted pain and suffering upon the Chinese people in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, today’s world is a very different place. Today, China is the world’s largest economic in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), the second largest in terms of GDP and this year, China will become the world’s largest domestic consumer market in dollar terms as China looks set to overtake the US in this important category.
As the economies of Europe, including Britain are experiencing either slow growth, no growth or negative growth, an economy like China’s that has maintained high levels of growth in spite of international pressures, is clearly a partner that could inject vitality into the economies of Europe in the form of comprehensive trade agreements and FDI deals.
As China does not meddle into the internal affairs of others, Brexit will not impact China’s desire to trade with the geographical nations of Europe, as China is prepared to trade with the EU and non-EU European nations alike, according to the political conditions that Europeans have set for themselves.
While China will retain this approach, China also will not allow threats and provocations to go unanswered. This is the case whether such threats come from the United States or militarily weaker nations like those of Europe. In this sense, Gavin Williamson and those of his ilk should stick to the subject of defence rather than use military threats against a trading partner that will be very much needed after next month’s scheduled British withdrawal from the European Union. As China does not threaten the security of any European nation in any way, there is no need for the word China to be on the lips of any European defence minister.
Instead, it is those in charge of economics and trade that should be talking about and talking to China in the effort to secure win-win outcomes. It seems that many in Britain want to do just that, but for the time being, Gavin Williamson’s irresponsible, hostile and threatening provocation has set progress back at a time when Britain desperately needs to gain forward momentum in trade talks with partners outside of the European Union.