March 21, 2015

“I don’t particularly want to live in a world under Chinese power..."

The Guardian You might call it one of the irregular verbs in international diplomacy: we engage, you accommodate, they appease. by Tania Branigan

'US irritation over Britain’s decision to sign up to a new Chinese development bank has laid bare the deep international divisions over how to deal with the world’s newest superpower.

'For the Americans, as for human rights groups and Chinese dissidents, countries like Britain are too willing to cede power to China as it grows wealthier and more powerful. One White House official accused the UK last week of “constant accommodation” of Beijing.

'The Foreign Office says its approach to China is consistent and it continues to raise sensitive issues, but analysts see a marked change since Beijing punished London over David Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2012. They note a string of bilateral deals, regular visits by government ministers to China, emollient remarks on human rights and especially the muted response to the Chinese government’s tight restrictions on voting rights in Hong Kong, which has disappointed many in Britain’s former colony.

'“All countries have of course become more accommodating to China,” says Katrin Kinzelbach of the Global Public Policy Institute, who has researched the EU-China human rights dialogue. “Cameron met the Dalai Lama, experienced a backlash and no one stood with him … It was the same when the Germans were in the same situation.”

'Roderic Wye, associate fellow at Chatham House and previously a China and east Asia specialist at the Foreign Office, says Europe has “signally failed to produce any consistency in policy towards China. That in itself encourages China to press hard on issues they feel are important … they think sooner or later there will be a crack.”

'Many suggest the same is true of Asian countries alarmed by China’s growing military might and assertiveness, but attracted by trade with and investment from the world’s second largest economy.

'Norway is a good example. When the country’s Nobel committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the peace prize in 2010, its salmon exports plummeted. Government ministers took note. So when the Dalai Lama visited Oslo last year, no government representatives met him.

'Guy de Jonquières of the European Centre for International Political Economy suggests the costs are “not terribly severe” for a reasonably sized and influential country, particularly as the Chinese economy slows and appears more precarious.

'China-UK trade increased by 11% in 2013, during the Dalai Lama row, and China continued to seek cooperation at non-ministerial levels.

'“The Chinese are intensely pragmatic and have an awful lot of stuff they want from us,” he said.
He suggests the chancellor has been too quick to offer Beijing advantages such as making it easier for Chinese banks to set up in London, loosening oversight.

'“If all we want is to be a glorified Singapore, where making money and exports are all that matters in foreign policy, that’s fine – but let’s not kid ourselves if we want to be taken seriously by anyone else,” he said.'

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