is difficult to disagree with much of what Silvia writes. China's
geopolitical, economic, and military weight make it essential for the
UK to make a careful assessment of its relationship with China. And I
absolutely agree that we need to fill our “gaps in knowledge of China’s
civilisation, history, society, and institutions...to better understand
the country’s current strategy and policy-making”. The same argument
holds good in the case of other important players like Russia, whose
historical experience is so different from our own.
is that better knowledge and understanding will not necessarily make
Chinese (or Russian) policy any more palatable to us, whether in its
management of religious minorities and political dissidents, or its
approach to international problems at the UN and elsewhere.
while we should certainly pursue a policy of building friendship and
mutual understanding, we need to retain the ability of all good friends
to criticise. Therein lies a problem. China - and Russia and Trump’s US
– do not want critical friends: if you are not with them, then you must
be hectored and harried into acquiescence.
A medium-sized power
like the UK needs to think very carefully in identifying and weighing
its interests. The financial and economic benefits of a close trading
relationship with China will bring obvious benefits. On the other hand,
China expects political concessions in return. Any comment on China’s
human rights record on the mainland or Hong Kong, for example, or any
contact with the Dalai Lama, will have ‘consequences’.
I am not
pretending that calculation of UK interests is easy or straightforward.
I do worry, though, that repeated silent acquiescence in the face of
China’s demands saps our moral authority and shows the weakness of our
position. Returning to Silvia’s original point, too, I am
concerned that we currently lack the in-depth expertise that we need to
inform our calculations.
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