Gao Jian: Increasingly Americanized British diplomacy turns 'Global Britain' strategy into a joke

  • Gao Jian is a scholar at Shanghai International Studies University and a China Forum Expert of CISS, Tsinghua University. 

    In recent weeks, leaders from both developed and developing countries and regions, including the EU, France, ASEAN, Germany and Brazil, have visited or are scheduled to visit China. But the UK is absent. 

    Since the cancellation of a planned meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the G20 summit, it seems London is determined to follow Washington's path of confrontation.


    The ideological features of the UK's policy toward China have become increasingly prominent. In order to present British loyalty before Sunak's visit to the US in March, the UK, in the Integrated Review Refresh 2023, portrayed China as an "epoch-defining challenge." Not only did the document mention the "threat" the Chinese mainland poses to the Taiwan island for the first time, but also it claimed to oppose any unilateral change in the status quo across the Taiwan Straits. Furthermore, Sunak said last November that the UK's "golden era" with China is over and that China posed a "systematic challenge" to UK "values and interests." 

    Ironically, while British diplomacy is becoming increasingly high-profile, the country's social problems are becoming growingly severe. It seems that the UK's "global Britain" diplomacy strategy will ultimately turn to be a joke.

    An article by Foreign Policy magazine, entitled "Britain Is Much Worse Off Than It Understands," said, "By any criteria, the United Kingdom faces a serious economic and social crisis, one that will deepen without big shifts in policy." It continued that "Average U.K. real wages are now lower than 18 years ago, which is unprecedented in the country's peacetime economic history." 

    At a time when domestic social livelihood issues are so grave, why is the UK government challenging China's fundamental diplomatic interests on such a large scale? What is the underlying logic?

    In the era of great power competition between China and the US, British foreign policy has shifted significantly from the "Global Britain" strategy toward a more "Anglo-Saxonized" diplomatic trend. The fundamental reason for this development is the Cold War mind-set and Western cultural superiority that dominate the current British politics. 

    The powerful figures of the Conservative Party cannot accept the fact of a non-Western country like China becoming increasingly prosperous. They are still enamored with the dream of the imperial glory of the past, reluctant and unable to face the root problems of their own society and political system.

    In the context of the increasingly fierce competition between China and the US, the diplomatic space for the UK to maximize its own interests is becoming increasingly narrow. Today's British diplomacy has been firmly tied to the US foreign policy. 

    The US is trying to unite its Eurasian allies under the concept of a new cold war, using the slogan of defending Western democracy and freedom as a slogan, and re-dividing the world into opposing camps of "the West" and "non-Western." As an ideological supplier and loyal follower of the diplomatic strategy of the US and the West, can the ideology of British diplomacy really save the increasingly serious social crisis in the country?

    British political circles must carefully consider the following three questions: First, is it feasible to continue to respond to the world development trend in the 21st century with a Cold War mentality? China is not the Soviet Union of the last century, let alone the US, which has always pursued hegemony. China practices the development concept of equality, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation. In terms of the size of the Chinese economy and domestic market, shouldn't the UK, which has always been a country founded on commerce and trade, get on board the fast-moving train of the Chinese economy?

    Second, how long can the ideological card of Western liberal democracy be played? Just imagine, if the current economic crisis in the UK further evolves into a comprehensive social crisis and political crisis, if the social and livelihood issues in the UK cannot be effectively responded to and solved, what on earth is the discourse power of this so-called democratic mechanism?

    Third, can a close alignment with the US interests really secure Britain's fundamental interests? In the past year's conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the US has gone from an ally of Europe to an actual "bad friend," Switzerland's century-old financial reputation has been destroyed, and the fundamental economic interests of Germany and France have been sacrificed by the US to solve its own domestic economic crisis. 

    In this regard, can the UK really rest easy in the so-called "special relationship?" It must be stressed that the political life of the British Conservative Party will be ultimately determined by the attitude of the British people.

    (This article was first published on GLOBAL TIMES on April 10, 2023.)

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