While waiting for my flight to China to continue negotiations on 3 China UK trade deals I picked up the FT, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Always looking for new angles on how to promote closer ties with China I realised that America and President Trump is indeed our greatest ally in this fight. By making the front pages on each of these leading newspapers, America is placing China in an ever stronger position on the world stage.
Climate change, financial 'clubs' and military strategy make strange companions
The key drivers currently pushing UK and China together are the three 'live-rails' of global politics. Climate change and the fact the President Trump acknowledges the fact that inefficient US manufacturers prefer short term financial gain to long term global benefits is the first area of contention. It is like queuing at the airport security counter to find someone barging in front. We all know there is certain pain in waiting but realise that by sacrificing a small amount of personal liberty is better for society as a whole. While the Chinese are not known for their patience in waiting in line like the Brits (anyone travelling through any of China's airports will have experienced this), on the global stage this is exactly what China has agreed to do in terms of climate change. In the vacuum left by America, China's conciliatory behaviour is louder than it would have been otherwise.
Global trade, TPP and Belt & Road Initiative.
Ever since TPP became a political instrument to counter China's economic dominance of South Asia, we have been watching to see how it would perform against China's Belt and Road Initiative"BRI" (renamed from the original One Belt and One Road in Q1 2017). We can now see that BRI has greater inclusivity, sustainability and relevance to the UK than TPP could ever have even if it been implemented successfully. Now there is just one global economic programme and China is the driver behind it. I was connected to the 15th May 2017 global BRI conference in Beijing and have been invited to join the BRI commercial discussions being held on 6th June which is also the luckiest day of the Chinese year. Here I will get to promote UK interests to leading Chinese commercial institutions in the spirit of cooperation rather than exclusion. Once again, the significance of such an event would have been lower if the TPP was a viable alternative.
Military cooperation? Surely not!
It is hard to think that 99 years after the end of the First World War that America would consider withdrawing support from NATO. However, this is what is being intimated by President Trump by his withholding his full-throated support for the military alliance that has protected Europe and the UK all these years. I admit that it is unlikely that a China UK Military Alliance would be formed but it is worth considering that as economic value builds along the Belt and Road between China and the UK through some of the most politically unstable countries in the world, how long will it be before economic principles need to be backed by military intervention? Will 70+ nations involved in BRI be willing to be held to economic ransom by one rogue state or radical extremists without having recourse to some pan-national security force? Certainly the USA will have no interest in stepping in and so it may be down to China to take a leadership role here as well. While projection of military power by the UK is a distant memory and our desire to confront China on the difficult issue of the South China Seas is limited to statements around 'rule of law', closer ties with China on military issues may be inevitable.
What of the future?
There are two future to consider. The first is USA/UK relations. With increased isolationist tendencies by America and limited ability or desire by UK political leaders to influence closer ties, this first option may be out of our hands. The Second future is China/UK where we are having much more success albeit from a lower base. Both countries recognise that soft power plays a vital role in building cross boarder trust and as such both have a vested interest to make the relationship work. So whether it is common interest in addressing climate change or building economic ties along the Belt and Road, we see a long a prosperous future ahead for both our countries.