by UnHerd
Wednesday, 19
May 2021
Event
11:48

Are British politicians finally getting real on China?

MPs sound increasingly hawkish
by UnHerd

In theory, being Foreign Secretary is a big deal. In practice, it’s a ticket to obscurity because the domestic agenda commands 99% of our attention.

It’s even harder for a Shadow Foreign Secretary to get a hearing — which is a shame because the current incumbent, Lisa Nandy, has some interesting things to say.

She said some of them in a seminar hosted by the Onward think tank yesterday evening. The topic was the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — the humongous infrastructure programme which has massively extended China’s influence around the world. 

Nandy did not mince her words. She stated that China’s economic model — involving market-distorting practices, over-production and dumping — has had “appalling consequences for people in this country and across the world.”

She’s right, of course — but it’s surprising to hear such language from a senior Labour politician. The contrast to the upbeat globalism of the Blair era is marked. Indeed, Nandy comes across as something of an economic nationalist — at least compared to the neoliberal orthodoxy that has held sway over mainstream British politics for decades now.  

Lisa Nandy is not the new Donald Trump, but she’s certainly awake to the fact that the flow of cheap Chinese exports is not an unalloyed blessing. The same goes for Chinese investment in capital projects around the world.

It’s not just cash-strapped developing nations that are taking the new red gold — but also, as Nandy points out, various British concerns including our nuclear new-build programme and even some British local authorities. 

Her Conservative co-panellist was Tom Tugendhat, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs select committee. He too took a hardline on China — though his particular angle was that the BRI “is a con” and that that it has “failed and will continue to fail.” In a 21st century global economy, Tugendhat believes that “mercantile colonialism” is doomed and that the fall out will come at “huge expense” to the Chinese state.

However, he warns that this is not good news for us either. An unsustainable economic model makes for a more dangerous and less stable China. The West, Tugendhat argues, must be ready to provide an alternative source of investment capital not only to developing nations, but quite possibly to China itself.  

The third panellist, Rana Mitter of Oxford University stressed that not all BRI projects were failures. However, whether they succeed or not, there is a “path dependency” effect whereby countries become locked into long-term relationships with companies that ultimately answer to Beijing.

Of course, it’s not for western governments to tell other nations who they should partner with. However, as all the panellists agreed, the West should at least provide governments around the world with a choice. If, for vital investment needs, the choice is China or nothing, then we’re in no position to complain about the outcome.  

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Mike Ferro
Mike Ferro
1 year ago

About time if they are. Plucky Australia is standing up to China; not so the pusillanimous EU, surprise, surprise!

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Ferro

Yes, bravo, plucky Australia. Kicked in the crotch by the less than picky/plucky New Zealander’s………………..unfortunately.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

in WWII when the US Marines landed in NZ to train and supply for the upcoming invasion of Guadalcanal (the pivotal fight of the Pacific.) The NZ Longshoreman and Stevedores went on strike over the work!

“A New Zealand longshoreman’s union almost caused the cancellation of the Guadalcanal campaign. Even though New Zealand was facing a dire threat from the expanding Japanese Empire, the unionized dockworkers of Wellington went on strike rather than load American naval vessels with supplies during poor weather for the Guadalcanal invasion. The union refused to budge despite the pleas from the navy so finally the dock workers were ordered off the docks and their places taken by Marines.” (the NZ ‘Warfies have always used strikes for political and extortion reasons) (The AUS Communist Warfies did some intentional destruction to USA war material too, and theft) –

The ANZAC fought ferociously as a military, but like how their shutting of their nations during covid showed, they have some odd qualities. I am very happy how AUS is finally taking on China.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
1 year ago

The Chinese empire is a serious threat to Western security and must be contained through limited offers of funds to indebted countries, and naval patrols to threatened maritime border regions.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Who makes these naval patrols? The great EU, head in the sand, Navy? French built ships captained by Italians and crewed by 27 different national types on orders from some weird, unknown EU ‘Department of Maritime Security Directorate’ of 28 politically appointed idiots?
When it comes to hard choices the 12 stars on the EU flag needs to be replaced by 12 cats being herded through a forest by some angry French guy. It gives a real picture.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Erm, I was thinking the Indians, CANZUK, Japan, and South Korea. (and America)

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

What we need is a good old fashioned Belt and Braces initiative.

Last edited 1 year ago by Fraser Bailey
David Bottomley
David Bottomley
1 year ago

I think it’s a massive mistake to underestimate China and its intentions . Can anyone give a good reasons why At some point in the not too distant future, China won’t be extending its military presence to those countries where is has invested heavily through BRI and under the guise of bringing peace and stability ( the usual guise used by western countries ) ?

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
1 year ago

Ever since China began its one-child policy, and parents went to extreme lengths to make sure it was a boy, I wondered what would happen when a nation of young men grew up with few women to go around. And the huge political and demographic chaos this would incur.

Then, in two countries i have lived in, the Chinese funded huge infrastructure projects. The catch was they would bring in their own labour (so these projects provided no jobs for the locals) and, specifically, this labour would remain in the country on the project’s completion. No surprise that these were unmarried young men. There are many reasons that China is investing in third world countries. That it provides a solution to a demographic time bomb is surely one of them.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

I’m glad attitudes are charging. I never understood why anyone thought it was a good idea to make a country like China rich beyond measure, and then effectively prostitute ourselves at a national level to that country. Now all we have to do to get Chinese money is look the other way and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when instructed.
I don’t feel particularly hostile toward China (except over Tibet), I just want us to make our own stuff.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago

We did not make China rich. China made itself rich. True, its accession to WTO in 2002 would not have happened unless Pres Clinton supported the idea, and that certainly was a huge boost to China’s exporting sector – as well as to the developed world and its manufacturers many of whom shifted their manufacturing to China. Most of it is still there, in spite of tariffs and COVID, because of Chinese efficiency and productivity.
To bring manufacturing back is the stuff of dreams. Not going to happen. Ask Apple.
COVID has turned many neutrals or China-positives into China-haters. It’s a pity. But it doesn’t change the fundamental reality.
Here’s a comment on that:
https://www.anthempressblog.com/2020/07/06/covid-19-china-and-the-new-cold-war-where-to-from-here/

Last edited 1 year ago by Giles Chance
Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
1 year ago

If you’re interested, there’s a very good seminar on China on the King’s College website. It features Cindy Wong, who recently deputised for Andrew Neil on Spectator TV. Interestingly, she points out that the Chinese are trying to get away from being the workshop of the world and would like others to take on the role as low cost producers while they develop into a high tech economy.
I really like Lisa Nandy, but she does have strong familial links with India, after all. I haven’t had time to listen to last night’s discussion, but will now.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 year ago
Reply to  Karen Jemmett

Chinese are trying to get away from being the workshop of the world and would like others to take on the role as low cost producers while they develop into a high tech economy.

Like it or not, my money would be on China achieving exactly that

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

Can they innovate though? What have they come up with since the firework?

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 year ago

They do some ground-breaking work on gain-of-function viruses.

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
1 year ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Funded by the US!

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

The picture is more nuanced than that. The Government would like China to move into high value-added areas. But hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants in places like Guizhou and Sichuan don’t know what high value-added means. They’re very happy to work hard at making things. China is a much bigger country, and much more complex in its ethnic and economic composition, than most outsiders appreciate.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Karen Jemmett

There is a very real likelihood China will begin eclipsing before long. Its demographics are all wrong is the biggest issue, like a huge Japan. That its people save rather than consume means it must export vastly, or have a huge GDP drop since the people will not consume their output. China is hugely in Dept, like Biden they spent untold Trillions on ‘Infrastructure’ that will not increase production, with way too many roads to no where and apartment towers for no one. They also are wrecking their environment, and slowing that will raise costs, and so output.

India has the demographics to make it the next Superpower, and will leap-frog China in a couple decades. They are intelligent, Entrepreneurial, hard working, and becoming well educated. Like the Chinese they are Hodlers, but less so, and this is important. They are also a lot more individualistic, and this is good.

USA will remain the global Superpower, even though it is doing Everything it can to self destruct, it still has, at its core, too much strength. The $ is the healthiest puppy in a sick litter, and the biggest. No other Fiat Currency can touch it as a Reserve.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Demographics won’t stop China. Your suggestion that India will supplant China shows, painfully, how little you know about India and about China, and the reality on the ground. There are very many talented and enterprising Indians. But Indian society, as a whole, is chaotic, an interesting and culturally rich mess. The CCP in China has organised the country, and the people know that. Young Chinese spend,. They don’t save, like their parents. I think what you mean to say is that you don’t wish for China to be a superpower. Many people would agree with you. But sometimes, we don’t get what we wish for, and we have to adjust to the real world. This is one of those times.
I’m sure China will go through some unexpected and different evolutions, but China is not going away. We’re in a 2-superpower world. The sooner you get to grips with that reality, the happier you will be, and the more sense your posts will make.

Last edited 1 year ago by Giles Chance
Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yet!

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

You would have thought with our historical links Britain would want India as next super power, but instead we seem to support China ( surely HS2 is part B & R?) and India’s next door neighbour Pakistan-neither country likes us at all & have an historic grudge against us. Still the experts know best.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

I would like to have all the influence the Chinese have bought exposed. At the very least, all MPs and their extended families should have their finances examined to make sure there is no corruption. Given our current circumstances that goes for all government advisers.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago

Common Unheard. Even if you can’t be arsed to read back your opinion pieces, to check if it’s correct and makes sense. At the very least please put some effort into glancing at the title. Maybe it’s symptomatic, nobody gives a sh*t anymore, it’s just cash in the bank, filling in space, why would an author give a monkeys about what they’ve written !

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

That was quick, you corrected it, even as I worked myself into a frothing lather to complain about it.
Good show.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
1 year ago

I watched part of the above video last night. I switched off when I couldn’t take the misinformation and bias any more. Rana Mitter is a Chinese historian of note, but, as he himself admitted last night, he does not know anything about the Belt & Road project. He had to get his information for this broadcast from an investment banking friend. In fact, Mitter was wheeled onto the video in order to give the outpourings of Nandy and Tugendhat a bogus aura of correctness and truth.
It’s simply incorrect for Nandy to say, and for this article to parrot, that “China’s economy has appalling consequences for people in this country and across the world”. China’s emergence has brought much prosperity to the West, as well as to China. Many manufactured products, including virtually all clothes and computers, have been made in China since 2000 or earlier.The impact of China’s emergence as the world’s factory on Western price levels from 1995 was quite dramatic. If China had not become the world’s factory, world price levels would now be much higher, and most manufactured products would be much more expensive. This is a huge benefit to everyone, especially to less wealthy people. Further, China has become the biggest market for many emerging countries whose main products are minerals or commodities. Countries like Chile and Peru (both big copper producers), and many others in Latin America, Africa and the rest of Asia have seen their balance of payments shift dramatically towards surplus because of Chinese demand.
It’s true that China’s emergence has brought huge change; for example, to much of America’s east coast and midwest. Here, labour mobility and retraining are essential.
But a Luddite-style approach to today and tomorrow is not a recipe for success. British policy must be based on the real world, on a correct appreciation of facts and on where Britain’s future opportunities lie. Change happens, and we have to accept it and take advantage of it.
Fortunately British policy towards China appears currently to be based on a more even-handed and realistic approach than that advocated by Tugendhat and Nandy. Let us hope that approach, of constructive engagement with China where possible while defending Britain’s beliefs and values, continues. If China’s Belt & Road initiative sparks a response from the West, of more investment in, and involvement with countries in Central Asia, Africa and eastern Europe, then it’s to the good.

Last edited 1 year ago by Giles Chance
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Like Japan in the 1930’s the high consuming and producing economy floated all the region’s boats. Java selling rubber, Dutch Indochina and oil, Philippines timber and rice, China and Manchuria producing minerals, it was boom time for everyone.

Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yes, but wasn’t it Keynes who famously said – “Of course, in the long-term, I’ll be dead?”