LONDON—The term “golden era” is a mantra often repeated by both the UK and China, to describe their relationship. As the UK prepares to exit the EU, its trading relationship with China is becoming more pertinent.
Charles Parton, who was Specialist Adviser on China to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says it’s more about finding a golden mean rather than a so-called golden era.
“There has to be a balance between, on the one hand our national security, our interests, and our values, and doing business with China,” said Parton, Senior Associate Fellow, Royal United Services Institute
Contrary to the line of the Chinese ambassador to the UK, not kowtowing to China has historically resulted in trade going up.
“Look at what happened when the UK was in the doghouse over David Cameron meeting the Dalai Lama back in 2010. In the two subsequent years, we had no ministerial visits, but our trade went up our exports went up,” he said. “I always say to people, look at the facts.”
“I think China needs foreign trading partners, as much as we need China,” he said.
Bringing in too much money from China may not benefit the UK.
Hong Kong Broadcaster and columnist, Chip Tsao pointed out that the Chinese telecom company Huawei is undermining the UK’s national security.
He added, “Admitting too much Chinese money would just make property prices in central London go up and up. It would hardly benefit the common wellbeing of the British people.”
A former ambassador said that the British government continues to bring up the communist party’s poor human rights record with China, in private, if not in public.
“I remember from my time in the Foreign Office, whenever we had a senior British Minister going to China over the years, the British media were constantly saying, you must speak to the government on China about their behaviour on human rights,” said Hugh Davies, who was the leading British diplomat in Hong Kong in the run up to the handover in 1997.
“British ministers did that, they did it in a way that’s not in public, and I’m sure that continues that will be the case,” he said.
Recent protests in London highlighting the political turmoil in Hong Kong have put the spotlight on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Banners read “Will Britain hold China to its promise on Hong Kong’s Freedom?” and “Will Boris surrender to China?” The answer, remains to be seen.