Gao Jian: A scholar at Shanghai International Studies University and China Forum expert.
While the China-Britain relationship is currently at a low point, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday visited China in an attempt to seek opportunities for in-depth communication with senior Chinese officials. Since 2018, high-level exchanges and interactions between the two countries have basically halted, so Cleverly's visit to China has been given special political and practical significance.
Some insiders believe that Cleverly's China trip is an ice-breaking mission, which is an exaggeration. Although British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unilaterally declared the golden era of China-UK relations to be over and described China as an "epochal challenge" in March this year, China-UK economic and trade relations are still steadily developing at a lukewarm pace. According to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, in the first five months of this year, real investment by British companies in China increased by 179.2 percent year-on-year. As Cleverly said, "isolating China is a mistake." Despite the existence of certain anti-China remarks within the UK Parliament, the overall attitude of the British government toward China has always been rooted in a "sober desire."
Building a relatively stable relationship between China and the UK is a good diplomatic choice for both sides. However, the weight of this bilateral relationship in their respective overall diplomatic interests differs for China and the UK. As a developing country with a positive long-term economic outlook, China benefits from an efficient socialist market economy system, a huge market demand, as well as a resilient and complete industrial chain system. These factors ensure that China always maintains strategic stability in the complex and ever-changing China-UK relationship. While defining diplomatic red lines, China maintains a constructive and open attitude toward the future of China-UK relations. The Chinese side believes that ideological rhetoric is ultimately futile in changing the fundamental direction of world development or the basic trend of the China-UK relationship. What does the Chinese market mean to the UK? What does a good and stable China-UK relationship mean for the UK's "Global Britain" strategy? 10 Downing Street should be clearer than anyone else about the answers to these questions.
It is undeniable that there are certain differences between China and the UK in terms of ideology and values. However, the question that needs to be asked is whether these differences are irreconcilable contradictions or surface contradictions formed in a specific historical period. The development trend of human destiny integration fully demonstrates that measuring the relationship between countries with a Cold War and jungle law mentality does not conform to the direction of world political and international pattern development in the 21st century.
In the process of modern world history, the UK was the first country to become industrialized, and Chinese society once sought to learn from the West and explore the development laws of Western industrial powers. It was this open and inclusive cultural spirit and pragmatic wisdom that helped China return to the center of the world stage. However, in the face of the current challenges in British society, some British politicians persist in Cold War thinking, disregarding basic facts and deliberately smearing China's image for their own hidden agenda. This self-destructive cognitive trap ultimately harms the national interests of the UK itself. After Brexit, the UK was once in a state of self-loss in its foreign policy. The Americanization of its policy toward China has been the main feature of the UK's diplomacy toward China for some time. If even basic strategic autonomy is difficult to achieve, what constructive role can the UK's policy toward China play?
What is the common understanding and common interest between China and the UK? On today's international stage, China's political influence and economic radiation are evident. Despite the pandemic, China's economic growth remains strong, and the potential of the Chinese market is infinite. For many internationalized industries in developed countries, avoiding the Chinese market is equivalent to self-destruction, and the UK, which has always been a nation built on commercial trade, should be aware of this.
The changes in the world today are profound and fundamental, prompting the strategic circles of various countries to break through their inherent ideological barriers and re-examine the development direction of the world pattern. Based on reflections on the modernization paths of Western countries, China has put forward a political policy of pursuing a Chinese-style modernization path to ensure the steady and long-term development of the Chinese economy. China is willing to share its experience of economic development with countries around the world and welcomes all countries to board the train of China's economic development. This open and cooperative attitude also applies to China-UK relations.
(This article was first published on Gloabl Times on Agu 31, 2023.)