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Britain should stay out of Cold War II The battle will be between two rival dysfunctional systems: China vs America

Two big guys. Big, big guys (Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)

Two big guys. Big, big guys (Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images)


June 8, 2020   11 mins

It is often claimed that with America’s decline and China’s rise we are entering a multipolar world. This is not quite correct: torn between the US and China, the new world system will be bipolar, with all the misery and instability the term implies. As Cold War II accelerates, we will be made to choose a side, with the looming crisis over Hong Kong indicating that we shall be forced into a decision sooner than we would like.

On the one side, the Chinese regime is a dystopian model of high-tech authoritarianism, which has forced tens of thousands of its Uighur subjects into concentration camps as part of a campaign of forced ethnic displacement, and which controls the political choices of its citizens to a degree intolerable to our professed values.

Openly siding with China is not a desirable option then, even if our status as an American client state permitted it. Indeed China’s penetration of our industry and infrastructure, including that central to our own national security, is a scandalous and catastrophic succession of errors carried out by notionally conservative governments.

China’s breach of the terms by which we relinquished Hong Kong humiliates the United Kingdom, though, in reality, there is nothing we can do to prevent it. And when the state-run newspaper China Daily threatens us that, in limiting Huawei’s access to our infrastructure we should expect a “retaliatory responses from Beijing”, it is a signal we must undo as urgently as possible a dependence on China which should never have been permitted in the first place.

Yet we must remember how we got here. Driven by self-interest and idealism alike, America dismantled the last great European empires, those of Britain and France, and took them for its own, ensuring our strategic decline just as it had by dismantling and acquiring Spain’s empire at the beginning of its ascent. While France took from Suez the lesson it would need to preserve its autonomy from the Atlantic superpower, we took the opposing point of view, that it was only by adhering close to the United States we could advance Britain’s interests in the world.

As the scholar of liberal imperialism Patrick Porter notes, as a result of “the United States’ dismantling of the economic order of imperial preference and the sterling bloc”, and the Suez crisis revealing “Britain’s vulnerability to U.S. coercion”, British governments repackaged our decline as necessary modernisation for domestic audiences. In doing so it “redefined Britain’s status around alliances and nuclear weapons, presenting retreat from empire as a graceful management of change”.

Yet arguably, in a Europe shattered by war and threatened with Soviet invasion, we had no choice. American largesse rebuilt continental Europe, turning Germany into an industrial superpower once again, even as we frittered away our ruinously expensive war loans, only paid off in 2006, on propping up the dwindling empire.

Vastly more powerful than today, though far from equal, Britain was throughout the 40-year military standoff with the Soviet bloc in the German countryside a far less subordinate partner than eventual victory would make us. After the fall of communism, we, along with our EU allies, cashed in the peace dividend to splurge on our consumerist dreams, eviscerating our armed forces and increasing our dependence on our transatlantic patron.

The Warsaw Pact was dissolved, yet NATO remained and expanded. What was once an alliance for Western Europe’s defence mutated into first a pan-continental empire, and then a coalition to export liberalism to unwilling or uninterested peoples across the world.

Yet while our European neighbours managed, for the most part, to politely decline Washington’s invitations to remodel the world according to the grandiose dreams of American ideologues, the United Kingdom rushed headlong into America’s failed and bloody adventures in the Islamic world. Swept along in these liberal crusades by prime ministers devoted to their American patron and vainly hungry for a place in history, the Britain of the neoliberal era thus helped bring about the age of populist anger threatening to tear it apart.

Like a cuckold convincing himself his misfortune is a lifestyle choice, we exulted in our strategic fealty to the United States, even as our household fell apart around us. Successive British governments convinced themselves they could moderate the superpower’s excesses. This delusion ought to have bled out in the dust of Helmand or Basra, but staggers on in the myth of the special relationship with which successive British premiers console themselves.

America’s catastrophic act of self-sabotage is a historical drama which will be pored over and debated for centuries; the idea we should follow its architects into a far more gruelling contest is highly unconvincing, simply as a matter of self-preservation.

The tragedy for us was not that the US failed to remake the world in its own image after the Cold War, but that in our own country, it succeeded. America’s ferocious culture war, which suffuses all aspects of life, is now the superpower’s most successful soft power export, and its baneful effects have poisoned our politics, perhaps beyond repair. While Chinese culture and its attendant political malignancies are of only marginal appeal in Europe, whatever strange new fixation captures Americans is soon transmitted to us, entering our political bloodstream, and debilitating our body politic.

When we see British Black Lives Matter activists chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” at bemused and unarmed British policemen, or Katie Hopkins tweeting about non-existent London No-Go-Zones for the largesse of their American patrons, or Emily Maitlis channelling Rachel Maddow’s moralising sermons for bluecheck approbation, we sadly apprehend our subordinate place in the global system.

If the Brexit vote had not corresponded so closely in time with the American presidential election, and if our journalist class were not so slavishly in hock to their more glamorous American counterparts, perhaps we could have escaped from the past four years with a healthier politics, but we did not. We imported not just the content of the American culture war, but even the form in its entirety, with the same elaborate conspiracy theories of Russian meddling, the same cast of grifters and demagogues, rogue bureaucratic Twitter accounts and #Resistance judges.

Like backwoods Gaulish or Dacian chieftains donning togas and trading clumsy Latin epithets, our elites have adopted the fashions of the imperial metropolis wholesale as a mark of distinction.

As proved in London at the weekend, the political disturbances of the metropole soon make their way to our distant province. In the very definition of subject status, events we have no power to influence roil our politics, and threaten our social order.

Just as we began to quell Europe’s worst outbreak of the virus from our East, the more insidious virus coming from our West may well now send our infection and death rates soaring once again. It is in these questions of life and death, for whom one is prepared to kill or die, that national identity is determined. The lives of unknown Americans are demonstrably more real and valuable to many of our citizens than those of fellow Britons, or even their own families. Far too late, with no cultural antibodies to protect us, we realise our exposure to the virulent American strain of politics.

It is worth turning our gaze from the turmoil on America’s streets to the more rational calculations in European capitals for clues as to how the new Cold War will play out on our continent. When major think tanks such as the European Council for Foreign Relations note that it is impossible to align European foreign policy with America’s, for the simple reason that America’s will be violently overturned with every electoral cycle, and the country is therefore too unstable and divided to even possess a coherent foreign policy, we see the greatest challenge facing the United States in a new Cold War: only those allies most severely threatened by its rivals, like Taiwan by China, or the Baltic states by Russia, will take its side. For everyone else, the safest option by far is staying neutral.

In a speech to Germany’s leading diplomats last week, the European Union’s Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles made the stakes clear. “Analysts have long talked about the end of an American-led system and the arrival of an Asian century,” he observed: “This is now happening in front of our eyes.”

Borrell also made clear that the continental bloc will choose neutrality, stating that “the pressure to choose sides is growing. As the EU, we should follow our own interests and values and avoid being instrumentalised by one or the other.” Merkel last week emphasised that Europe has a “great strategic interest” in maintaining its relationship with China, and warned that “we Europeans will need to recognise the decisiveness with which China will claim a leading position in the existing structures of the international architecture”.

France, too, will safeguard its own national interests rather than those of the disordered hegemon. Its Foreign Minister, Yves Le Drian, reassured the French Senate last week that ”regarding China, I do not think we should be locked into a logic of confrontation bipolar world. To not start a second Cold War we must affirm Europe’s autonomy.”

In a Chinese readout of a conversation between Macron’s chief diplomatic advisor Emmanuelle Bonne and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Bonne is stated as affirming “France’s readiness to step up strategic communication with China, strengthen mutual trust and maintain coordination in the multilateral arena,” and assuring China that “France respects China’s sovereignty, appreciates the sensitivity of Hong Kong-related issues, and has no intention of interfering in Hong Kong affairs.”

While this may be a popular tactic with European voters — a recent ECFR poll across EU countries shows that the vast majority support neutrality in a conflict between China and the United States — history has a habit of forcing itself on even the least willing protagonists, highlighting the potential fractures within Europe.

While the Baltic states and Poland depend on America for security from Russia, and will likely remain faithful allies, the EU’s Western liberal democracies are ironically more likely to incline towards China, or at least adopt a pose of studied neutrality.

While Germany’s Atlanticist thinktank class is committed to the American alliance with an emotional passion not seen elsewhere in Europe, the country’s powerful business lobbies are drawn towards China as the growing economic engine of the world, creating an unresolvable tension within the country’s foreign policy.

Merkel may view the European Union as little more than the geopolitical wing of the German car industry, but Macron’s France likely sees the coming great power confrontation as a means to accelerate European autonomy, attempt to incorporate Russia as a security partner, and by weakening both superpowers afford more space to extract rewards for cooperation by playing both rivals against each other.

China’s soft power efforts have played well in Italy: despite being the source of the virus, and doing much to exacerbate its lethal spread, it has manouevred itself into a position of most trusted ally, eclipsing the EU itself, and creating a dangerous moment for European unity. The Channel will only keep growing wider then, as America’s internal political conflict drags us deeper into its chaos, and the eastward shift of economic gravity pulls our closest neighbours towards Beijing’s new order.

In Europe’s east, China has invested in infrastructural projects like the highspeed rail link from Greece, where it has bought the busy port of Piraeus, to Budapest, linking the Balkans to its trans-Eurasian Belt and Road initiative.

The likely framing of the superpower confrontation as an ideological battle between democracy and authoritarianism will not necessarily work in America’s favour in a Central Europe successfully dismantling liberal norms.

In a fiery speech last week on the centenary of the Treaty of Trianon, Viktor Orban seemed to reposition Hungary in the Chinese camp, exulting that “ The United States is no longer alone on the throne of the world, Eurasia is rebuilding with full throttle,” and declaring that “a new order is being born. In our world, in our lives as well, great changes are banging on our gates.” The EU will therefore find it difficult to strike a common position on China, opening up the continent to influence campaigns from both sides, and deepening political instability.

Merkel may have launched a campaign to use this crisis to Make Europe Strong Again, but to be torn between two great powers struggling to establish their respective spheres of influence is not a comfortable place to be. As Borrell nervously remarked to the German ambassadors this week, “it is fashionable to say that we are reaching a Thucydides moment. Let’s hope not!”

The United Kingdom is, then, placed in a difficult position. The timing of this crisis so soon after Brexit is unfortunate: dependent on trade deals with both China and the United States to make good the loss of our European markets, we are likely to be forced to choose one, and bear the reprisals of the other. The Chinese government is unfortunately only being truthful when it warns us, through its flagship newspaper, that “while the UK is no doubt hoping that toeing the US line 
 will help it gain a favorable trade deal with the United States, with which it began negotiations this month, the benefits are likely to be offset by the losses.”

The Global Britain fantasy of notionally right-wing Brexiteers was always parasitic on the American-led order maintaining access to Asian markets for us: a vision dubious at the time of the 2016 vote, and already vanished in 2020. As Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London notes in a recent survey of Britain’s unpalatable foreign policy options, our postwar supposed role was “a position within an international system that was ordered and stable, but that no longer exists”.

But instead of quietly reflecting on their role in dragging us into this disaster, Britain’s prominent neoliberals are instead promoting the absurd idea of importing Hong Kong’s three million British Nationals (Overseas) to a yet-to-be-built megacity on unused marginal land, surely the least thought-out program of imperial population resettlement on these islands since the Plantation of Ulster.

Removing Beijing’s political opponents en masse presents not the slightest threat to the Chinese regime, and instead strengthens it. It may lock us into a permanent state of tension with China unlikely to end in our favour. This is not serious foreign policy, but empty signalling primarily  for domestic purposes, Palmerston’s civis romanus sum speech for a country that has decommissioned all its gunboats. So much for Global Britain: halfway through 2020 it has already shrunk to a speculative high-rise refugee camp in North Lincolnshire.

What options are available to us in the real world? They are very limited indeed. As Freedman asserts: “No wonder the British foreign policy establishment is at a loss about what to do next
 if the new big project is containing China, it is one in which the interests of the two countries do not wholly coincide and to which the United Kingdom could make only a limited contribution.”

Yet neither can we aim for strategic autonomy, because, “British intelligence and defense capabilities are deeply intertwined with American ones, and it would not be easy to disentangle them in short order. The most substantial recent investments, including in Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines, Queen Elizabeth–class aircraft carriers, and F-35 fighter jets, all rely on U.S. technology and facilities.”

The MoD’s recent program of military modernisation, paid for by winnowing down our troop numbers to dangerous low levels and carried out with the ostensible aim of enhancing our global reach in a world of greater strategic competition, has therefore only cemented our dependence on a declining hegemon. British politicians would do well, then, to match our rhetoric against China to our actual capabilities. If this is indeed the dawn of the Chinese century, our strategic considerations should look far beyond the headline-grabbing soundbites of the moment, plotting the onerous path ahead in decades rather than news cycles.

A closer relationship with Europe might seem attractive, if Brexit had not poisoned the waters: but a Europe torn between Chinese and American influence will be a difficult relationship to maintain, if our closest neighbours maintain their links with China while we align with the United States for the sake of Hong Kong, or simply of nostalgia for better times. The practical and moral arguments against deepening relations with China are clear and compelling: yet those against tying our nation’s fate to that of a rapidly declining power merit serious consideration.

The handling of the Covid crisis has not enhanced our government’s reputation for either foresight or planning capability. Serious debate is needed before we are distractedly hurried into a generational struggle against a vastly superior opponent, with only an unreliable and now increasingly unstable ally for support.

In terms of the models they set for us, we are presented with a battle between two rival dysfunctional systems: where China’s foreign policy is excessively cynical and self-serving, America’s is excessively naïve and inept. China’s domestic politics suffers from an excess of stability, culminating in totalitarianism; but America’s from an excess of volatility, culminating in chaos.

The right balance for us is surely somewhere in the middle, maintaining as cordial a relationship as we can with each party, while ensuring as much individual freedom of action as possible, and as much strategic, economic and supply chain autonomy as can hurriedly be rebuilt after three decades of historic profligacy. Our future will not be autarkic, but it will be far closer to autarky, as much by necessity as by choice, as any mainstream commentator would have imagined just two months ago.

Britain reached its diplomatic height in an earlier period of multipolarity, during the long years between the Congress of Vienna and the Battle of Sedan when, as the most cynical and relentlessly self-serving actor on the world stage, we played rival powers against each other and avoided foreign entanglements as far as possible.

As Palmerston remarked in 1848, in a bon mot borrowed by both de Gaulle and Kissinger, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Our interests now are to get through the coming decades of strife as safely, securely and peacefully as we can. It is no great hardship to quietly abandon our permanent subordinate role in a Transatlantic alliance that has not, in recent years, served us well. The Special Relationship was always an unrequited passion, and America’s postwar hegemony the merest blip in our history.

In Freedman’s survey of Britain’s now urgent foreign policy dilemma, he suggests that “the country enjoys relative security as an island at the more tranquil end of the Eurasian landmass, with a decent economy, a moderate climate, and a high standard of living. Because of this, the case for a quiet life, for steering clear of trouble elsewhere, is not so unreasonable that it can be dismissed out of hand.”

This is the case for national Hobbitism, and it is an attractive one. It is not immediately clear that Japan or Switzerland or Sweden are worse models for us than America or China. To our nation as much as to the individual families of which it is composed, Covid has unleashed a world suddenly filled with hardship and danger, where the familiar has become filled with risk and threat we are unable, on our own, to manage. We may think of it as the sensible precaution of societal distancing: quietly withdrawing from a threatening world, completing the necessary domestic repairs we long put off, and waiting watchfully for better times.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
4 years ago

China is strategically isolated. It’s regional neighbours oppose its dominance and will be more than willing to under cut it as America begins to decouple economicly. It is still years behind American in key fields of electronics and computing and has failed to foster any kind of innovation, only theft and second rate imitations.

America will no longer pay Europe’s defence bill, protect the global sea lanes and stand up for a rules based international order, only to have Europe slam the door in their face on trade and diplomacy. Nations which seek to continue to piggy back off the USA soon be thrown to the floor.

Splendid isolation, the authors fantasy choice, is the worst of all worlds. Face with an imperfect USA and the perfect tyranny of China, the choice should not be difficult.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“Faced with an imperfect USA and the perfect tyranny of China, the choice should not be difficult.” But as I noted below, that implies that the best outcome for Europe would be for the imperfect USA to win. The best outcome for Europe would be for both America and China to lose.

Europe’s defence bill could be much cheaper if the US hadn’t continued to treat Russia as an enemy after 1991.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

After the horrors of seventy years of the Soviet Union the US was quite correct to be cautious. After all what had caused this extraordinary Communist damascene conversation? Surely not some ideological renaissance, but rather systemic economic and cultural collapse, as had always been predicted.
Judging by the antics of Putin, the US made the correct assessment of the threat from a potentially unstable yet patently aggressive Russia.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Compare the way that Russia was treated, after Gorbachev did the decent thing and let the Soviet Union fall about without violence, with the way that China was indulged, flattered and enriched, in very short order of Tiananmen Square.

Russia’s present behaviour is in part a by-product of the conduct of the rest of the historic West towards it since 1990, China’s present behaviour likewise. Post-Communist Russia, however, was never going to become a real superpower again.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

It is hardly surprising that the collapse of the Soviet Union was regarded with suspicion by the West.
After forty five years of Cold War confrontation this ‘bloodless’ revolution was too good to be true. There was also the suspicion that the old guard (KGB), having not been exterminated, as one might have expected, would return in another guise, which is precisely what has happened.
However your criticism of of how China has been “indulged, flattered, and enriched”, is spot on. ‘Our’ insatiable greed for consumer goodies has made the possibility of a nuclear war with China, within five to ten years, almost a certainty,
This will, off course give the US Defence Industry a major headache, for who else is there to confront, once China is destroyed?
The Romans Republic faced a similar dilemma after the destruction of the Seleucids at the Battle of Magnesia in
563 AUC/190 BC. Fortunately for us, they later found other peoples to harvest.

jbunce01
jbunce01
4 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Theft and second rate imitations seem to be serving China pretty well. The speed of catch up has been frightening. Its also backed up with a fervent belief among most Chinese that their country is destined to be the worlds leading economy. Just have a look at the Great Wall car factory just outside Beijing and the China Shipping containers which travel past my garden every day and you can see 2 things: the myth that China is miles behind us is just that -a myth: and that even if their apparrent tech. Strength is not real, we still seem happy to buy all the other low-tech crap they sell us. Next time you put on a face mask or surgical gloves, look where they were made!

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
4 years ago

The author comments that France sees the New Cold War as an opportunity to weaken both superpowers; this is the one acknowledgement in the article that the New Cold War may not have a winner. Modern wars, even cold ones, are very costly, and usually have more losers than winners, no matter who wins in the pedantic, legalistic sense. Britain and France officially “won” the First World War, for instance, but the only real winners were the Americans, who expended relatively little blood and treasure for a great strategic gain. Similarly, the only real winners of the Second World War were the Americans and the Russians.

Most people seem to expect China to win the New Cold War. I expect both China and America to lose, in the sense that they both stand to exhaust themselves by conflict. By 2050, we may find that both the US and China are superpowers in decline. Europeans, whether inside or outside the EU, should reflect on whether their interests might not be best served by such an outcome.

Neil Papadeli
Neil Papadeli
4 years ago

I like the recommendation to ‘sit this one out’ and agree with your no winners point, however (and sadly) the point made in the article about the interconnected nature of the US and UK’s intelligence and security arrangements seems to make this option difficult. So what are our ‘eternal and perpetual interests’? Has the pandemic changed anything? Anyway, I’m sure someone has a list somewhere…

Bill Gaffney
Bill Gaffney
4 years ago

Another one. America will be here long after you are mouldering in your grave.

Andrew Turnbull
Andrew Turnbull
4 years ago

Pretty sure the “free world” was one of the real winners of the Second World War. How many people today speak German or Japanese? How many would, had America and the allies not prevailed?

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
4 years ago

This is appeasement in all but name and never works in the end

Daniel
Daniel
4 years ago

The author is on record as having worked for China Central Television – the propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party. Shouldn’t UnHerd make this previous affiliation known?

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in

Red gold notwithstanding, I found the article quite well written.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Daniel

Well done for unearthing that fascinating fact.
It makes perfect sense given the tenor of this essay.

Nick Chalk
Nick Chalk
4 years ago

How could anyone think there’s a choice between a democracy and a non-democracy?
China is a communist state, nothing good has ever come from communism. I’ll stick with the good ‘ol USA thank you. As a consumer I’m doing my best to avoid Chinese produce, not always the easiest but I will try. Anyone here in “West” should consider the ease in which they can protest and attack the (Western) system and then think do Chinese citizens have the same rights? Doubtless CCP propaganda would have you believe they do but just look at the evil forced upon the Hong Kong population. As before we stood and stared down communism and we can do it again. Communism fails every time.

Robert Lund
Robert Lund
4 years ago

Mr. Roussinos writes cogently and makes many excellent points and observations . However I find his conclusion somewhat illogical . Having predicted that the future world will not be multipolar He proposes “staying neutral” in the bioplar world . It seems hard to understand this concept.
Having been born in 1946 I can say that it was the military might of the US that kept Europe at peace and free during my lifetime.
Given a choice between world domination by either China or the USA give me the USA , will all its myriad faults , any day.

AJ Spetzari
AJ Spetzari
4 years ago
Reply to  Robert Lund

He writes well – and there are some good points buried in there. But much like some of his other articles there’s a heck of a lot of exaggeration and sweeping statements.

It’s certainly not the first time someone has wondered whether things might be better at home if the UK took a step back from the world stage, it’s never been thought through to its logical conclusion.

The UK still has a moderately large say in events – because it still contributes heavily to and is an active player in world politics. (One of the world’s largest economies, a moderate military capability, membership of multiple and wide ranging global organisations, significant overseas aid contributions, the list goes on). These are all facts – agree with them in principal or not.

It’s a curious response to want to stop taking part in anything. Akin to a child having a tantrum and stopping playtime because it can’t win – even if that’s not the objective of the game.

Rob Morton
Rob Morton
4 years ago
Reply to  Robert Lund

Agreed. if it comes to supporting (non-Trump led?) USA or China, i think most people across Europe, would choose the mostly – liberal and democratic USA over the near total totalitarian China. Cultural links within the ‘west’ will make a shift into China’s orbit unpalatable for most electorates.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
4 years ago

For as long as I can remember, nearly 50 years now, there has been some hack journalist predicting the end of America and revelling in its perceived decline.

This is another one.

Steve Craddock
Steve Craddock
4 years ago

The disconnect starts with assuming the British people will decide to take the easy course over the right course, and with respects, which is which is really left for future historians to decide. Should we support Hong Kong, yes, is it wise to? Hmm, the jury’s is still out. On average from about 2009 to 2020 we have already absorbed 3 million people, another 3m will be a piece of cake if we really put our minds to it especially if we asked asked our commonwealth partners to help out.

Dieter Johannson
Dieter Johannson
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve Craddock

It certainly seems that, at the very least, the English & Welsh have proven that, given the opportunity, they still retain the ability to take decisive action. By this action, they have (finally) gifted the themselves with one of the Wests more politically stable Governments – despite what the Twittersphere might argue. An interesting, though largely overlooked development on HK, was the joint CAUK statement issued on 22 May. If the Ends is the right course, then perhaps 3 million HKers, spread across 3 aligned and well developed Common Law partners, is not such a onerous pill to swallow, as a means of standing on a principal?

Dieter Johannson
Dieter Johannson
4 years ago

The Author shows his petticoats in his rather ‘obvious’ article.

His analysis is over simple and his argument banal. Cold War 2 is now seemingly inevitable. If we were indeed to invoke Palmerstonion self interest, one would not need the imagination of a genius to work out that, in freeing itself from the logical prison that is the EU, the UK has presented itself with a unique opportunity to reshape its future and re-order its interests. There are, outside its foggy islands, a whole company of like minded, ‘middle powers’ with startlingly similar interests. If the British were able to park some of their establishment arrogance and at the same time leverage its still considerable soft power, it could find a way to navigate a more nuanced way in the World, amongst similarly self-interested friends.

CV19 and fishing rights are no more than temporary distractions.

Shane Dunworth-crompton
Shane Dunworth-crompton
4 years ago

China and America have co-dependent economies and would be best continuing their cooperation. Radically different political systems proved no barrier to the mutual economic benefits of this relationship until the Chinese mishandling (“exacerbation”!) of the coronavirus pandemic eroded both trust and damaged both economies. Neither Xi nor Trump can afford to be conciliatory. By November this may all have changed

John Bruce
John Bruce
4 years ago

The author is, as usual, raising some interesting points but as with previous articles there are some assumptions that are included which I feel are made without justification. the example here is “China’s breach of the terms by which we relinquished Hong Kong humiliates the United Kingdom, though, in reality, there is nothing we can do to prevent it.”.
I have lived in Hong Kong since 1995 and I would challenge the assumption that China has breached the terms of the Basic Law. Essentially, the events of the last year have allowed China to partially invoke Article 23 of the Basic Law via the terms of Article 18 of the same Law. It is indeed not ideal that the Central Government is bypassing the Special Administrative Region’s Legislative Council but it is, in the minds of a number of legal authorities, quite within its rights to do so. The fault lies with the loosely worded Joint Declaration which forms the basis of the Basic Law. The UK was a joint drafter of this and it is an inadequate document .
Separately, it has to be acknowledged that any modern jurisdiction has National Security Laws and the real issue will be with the actual wording of the new Law and the fact that its enforcement must be subject to Hong Kong Law.

AJ Spetzari
AJ Spetzari
4 years ago

Whilst objectively I quite like the phrase “national hobbitism”, the phrase “Little Englander” already exists for what you describe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wi

It has more recently been (mis)used as an insult to Brexit supporters, amongst others.

I agree that the general “Americanis-ation” we see daily is perhaps not a good thing. But your overall message is a bit confused, as you both seem to bemoan the fact that we are close to America, as well as berate the UK for not being so. Same goes for Europe.

To be honest, the UK when viewed over the past few decades is exactly where you would expect it to be culturally, politically and socially. It’s a European nation, but with unsurprisingly close links across the Anglosphere.

I sincerely doubt the answer is to sit in the Winchester until this all blows over…

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
4 years ago

“Maintaining a cordial relationship with each party ” sounds like a recipe for disaster given that China has already threatened the U.K. with ” consequences ” if Johnson has the temerity to offer passports to Hong Kong.

johntshea2
johntshea2
4 years ago

Britain is in “Cold War 2″ whether it likes it or not. The differences between the US and British systems are insignificant compared to the widening gulf that separates them from China’s system. Britain would have that problem even if the USA did not exist.

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
4 years ago
Reply to  johntshea2

Indeed.

Let’s look at the example of freedom of speech. For all the controversies about the imperfections of the various Western, almost all U.S.-based, Internet search and social media companies, can anyone imagine if we instead used competing services based on China? China of course has its own equivalents, and virtually none of them are widely-used outside China.

China clearly desires to use its clout to censor information not just within its own borders, but throughout the world. We’ve seen the “soft” version of this power for years with Hollywood movies, as high-budget blockbusters that rely on access to the Chinese market steer away from topics that would anger the CCP. We’re also seeing “harder” versions of it via China’s attempt to punish the NBA for one team’s general manager tweeting in support of Hong Kong protesters last year as well as taking actions against brands for any apparent support of Tibet (the Dalai Lama) or Taiwan (listing it under “countries and regions” on hotel booking websites). To think that the Chinese government will stop there in its attempts to influence the behavior of companies and individuals outside its borders is incredibly naive.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
4 years ago

After years of my own research which took a different but in some ways similar path as your own, I reached exactly the same conclusion.

Our new role should be dedicated to ourselves.

We need to turn inwards after too long facing outwards.

We need to fix our systemic fragilities, we need to fix our cultural fragilities and we need to relearn how to be an independent democratic nation again even if that means some iteration of ‘Progressive Protectionism’ (google it ðƾ˜Ơ) in order to start all over again.

In this Reconstruction of a New Britain, we can show global leadership by leading by example. Whether in terms of inclusive national policy, resilience building, creating national integration and geopolitical diplomacy.

In this respect, all countries of the world could do alot better by creating sustainable, sufficient and resilient national systems that help build and thus contribute towards a sustainable, sufficient and resilient global future for all.

By cooperatively building sustainability, sufficiency and resilience at both national and global levels, we make global peace our superordinate goal without the need for military involvement.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/

Anthony Wells
Anthony Wells
4 years ago

This strikes me as a very odd and unconvincing analysis of the current balance of power in the world and the best policy for Britain to adopt in relation to it. The problem seems to be AR’s inability or refusal to understand what we have in common with the US, combined with an overhasty readiness to write the US.

Here are a few objections to his arguments:

AR: “the new world system will be bipolar, with all the misery and instability the term implies.”
The world was bipolar between 1948 and 1989, and it was neither miserable nor unstable. Those were years which saw massive growth in the economies of the Western world, and elsewhere.

AR: “the Chinese regime”Š controls the political choices of its citizens to a degree intolerable to our professed values”
Why “professed”?
The Chinese regime’s treatment of the Uighurs is intolerable to our values per se, values we share with the USA and most other Western countries. The same is true of its failure to respect the terms of the Sino-British Agreement on Hong Kong.
In connection with Hong Kong, AR later criticises “the absurd idea of importing Hong Kong’s three million British nationals”Š” The word “import” suggests AR fails to understand, or wilfully ignores, the principle at stake, a principle based on the same values – shared with the US – that make the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs intolerable. Was it absurd of Britain to offer a refuge to European Jews in the 30s, or to Ugandan Asians in the 70s?

What sense does it make for AR to describe the UK as a “client state” of the USA? We are an ally of the US, less powerful, obviously, but to describe us as if we were Belarus in relation to Russia is simply wrong. The author is making a false equivalence between the foreign policy motivations of liberal democracies and those of authoritarian and totalitarian states.

AR: NATO, after the fall of the Soviet Union, “mutated into”Š a pan-continental empire”. Really? Does anyone who’s followed NATO’s development at all in the last 30 years recognise this description?

AR cites approvingly the view of the European Council of Foreign Relations that “the country [the US] is”Š too unstable and divided to even possess a coherent foreign policy”. Yet the White House’s recently published ‘US Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China’ is reliably reported to reflect a collective view held across US government and by both Democrats and Republicans. No instability and division there.

AR: “If this is indeed the dawn of the Chinese century”Š”
If indeed. Maybe, maybe not. How about “If Xi Jin Ping is toppled from power and the hardliners in the Chinese Communist Party start to lose their grip on the country”Š” Remember how many Sovietologists predicted the fall of the USSR.

AR: “The practical and moral arguments against”Š tying our nation’s fate to that of a rapidly declining power [the US] merit serious consideration.”
Just what is the evidence that the USA is a power in rapid decline, either economically, politically or militarily? It may have an erratic president, to put it no more strongly, its domestic politics may be more riven than in recent times, but it is hard to find tangible evidence that these have led to any decline in American economic or military power. The White House banning Huawei from using American-designed microchips threatens the Chinese company’s very existence. China doesn’t make any chips that can replace them. Is that a sign of declining economic American power, or of Chinese vulnerability? If the US threatened nuclear retaliation against any attempted Chinese occupation of Taiwan would China pursue its course or back off? If China then decided to test America’s resolve, it would be doing so in full knowledge that it was confronting what is still the greatest military power the world has ever seen, and that China would probably not survive any US nuclear onslaught. Not too much declining American power that I can see

Simon T
Simon T
4 years ago

The observations on the US culture wars being exported to other countries are interesting.

But can the UK just withdraw from the world and, morally, should it? The US is going through what might be an aberration – years of culture wars attacks from the left and the current reaction. It’s still got a thriving, innovative economy. A rising tide lifts a lot of boats and it might well tip over a few on the strident left, putting an end to the culture wars apart from a few holdouts in the universities. The picture then will quite different and query whether the US will look kindly on France, for example. Maybe the democracies should lend each other more moral support.

John Ellis
John Ellis
4 years ago

Good article, and I agree with the general conclusion. And if Basil is right that America and China both would be exhausted by their struggle for supremacy, it is definitely the way to go. Unfortunately history shows that more often, one completing power wins out in the short term, and enjoys a period of dominance. If that happens, I suspect it will be China that wins.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  John Ellis

The US military correctly believes in the old Anglo Saxon adage “self praise is no recommendation” and thus is extremely reticent about its true capabilities.
However it is axiomatic that it receives generous state funding for all our sakes. Therefore highlighting China’s aggressive posturing is to be applauded.
The forthcoming war will not be a ‘boots on the ground’ affair, but rather an overwhelming and probably annihilating nuclear assault. It will literally be over in a ‘flash’. Rather like the Ancient Romans, the aim will be to studiously avoid any US citizen deaths.
This should be possible for the next five perhaps even ten years, but no more.
If China continues to “chance her arm” as we used to say, they face total destruction, on the scale of that inflicted on the city of Carthage in 607 AUC/146 BC, by Ancient Rome.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

As we know, in this day and age “destruction on the scale inflicted on Carthage” means mutually assured destruction. It that’s where we’ll be in ten years time, then it’s all the more important for Europe to sit this one out.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

Yes we used to talk a lot about Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), but in reality it only applied to Europe and the Soviet Union.
The CONUS as US Department of Defence now describes the US, was very unlikely to have received even one strike from a Soviet Nuclear missile, such was the enormous technological chasm between the two powers.
You will recall that in same year the Romans obliterated Carthage, they did the same to Corinth.
In fact 607 AUC/146 BC was an astonishingly successful and profitable year for the Roman Republic. It also an apposite lesson on how to ‘win’ a war.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
3 years ago
Reply to  John Ellis

Basil’s predictions do seem rather like wishful thinking

Bill Gaffney
Bill Gaffney
4 years ago

You British would do well to discount this agent provocateur. He writes for those to whom he is allegiant and not in British interest.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
4 years ago
Reply to  Bill Gaffney

Out of curiosity, in whose interests do you think he is writing? It seems to me from the above that he is writing in the interests of historic Western civilisation, which is to say, the thing that stretches from Cork to Vladivostok and from Lisbon to Lanarca.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

Surely not Vladivostok? Even Larnaca is pushing it a bit far don’t you think?

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I think there’s more commonality between the cultures that produced Shakespeare, Dante, Mozart, Flaubert, Vermeer and the culture that produced Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Tchaikovsky than there is between any of those cultures and that of the United States. I feel as far away from home in Chicago as I do in Istanbul or Tokyo (all places I’m fond of, by the way).

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago

Yes I would agree completely, but only up to the Ural Mts. After that it is rather too much ‘Golden Horde’ or worse, all the way to Vladivostok.
Cyprus, which I have been to on numerous occasions since the 60’s, I’ve always felt was more Middle Eastern than European, despite the veneer of Byzantine, Lusignan, Venetian and British culture.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Bill Gaffney

Don’t worry Mr Gaffney we are quite practised in a spotting such blatant nonsense.
As ‘Daniel’ says above, the author of this essay Mr Roussinos has previously worked for China Central Television, the revolting propaganda organ of the CCP!
This whole essay is a clarion cry for that dreaded concept Appeasement, and as the late WSC said “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”.

Andrew Turnbull
Andrew Turnbull
4 years ago

…the more insidious virus coming from our West may well now send our infection and death rates soaring once again…” ~ except it’s not a virus, so the metaphor fails.

It’s human behavior, and you Brits have every human capacity to choose to follow or not to follow. Enough Brits chose to follow rather than to think for themselves.

That’s on you Brits, not on us Yanks.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

I am surprised that there are no comments on this article. It is not a subject about which many people are indifferent,

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago

America may be insane – a lot more insane than China – with the ‘Woke’ religion that is now their main cultural export, but I’m not sure that moral insanity equates to ‘steep decline’ in terms of actual power.