New Orientation
UK Draws Fire for Deepening Ties with China

Today sees a meeting between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Cameron’s country house, called Chequers. The meeting comes midway through Xi’s trip to the UK, which started this Tuesday and ends thus Friday, and the matters up for discussion include Syria and facing “extremism.”

But the most important part of Xi’s visit so far is the growing economic, not the military or diplomatic, cooperation between the two powers. The UK is allowing Beijing extensive access to its markets and inviting Chinese investments in British infrastructure, according to Bloomberg:

David Cameron said Chinese President Xi Jinping will bring more than 30 billion pounds ($46 billion) in deals and investment on his visit to Britain this week, as the prime minister defended himself against charges he was being too warm towards his visitor.

The deals will create 3,900 jobs in the U.K., in sectors including the creative industries, retail, energy, health and technology, financial services, aerospace and education, Cameron’s office said in an e-mailed statement, without giving further details.

The United States has not been hiding its displeasure at the United Kingdom’s warm reception of Chinese President Xi Jinping in London this week. From the standpoint of the U.S. and others, Britain is brashly dismissing concerns about human rights and undermining efforts to contain China’s rise.“If there is one truism in managing relations with a rising China, it is that if you give in to Chinese pressure, it will inevitably lead to more Chinese pressure”, warned a former advisor to President Obama.

It’s not necessarily an inaccurate criticism, but it’s worth putting it in some historical context: Waspophobes have long complained that the Brits are a bunch of heartless profiteers. Indeed, Britain gained access to China in part by exploiting the morally dubious opium trade, so there is an ironic appositeness to it overlooking China’s human rights record today.

Britain may well be getting itself into some trouble here; offer the Chinese an inch, and they’ll take the opportunity to seize a foot. Still, self-righteous world leaders shouldn’t simply criticize Cameron’s actions as naive or immoral. Opening Britain up to Chinese investors makes a lot of sense for the UK, particularly as London works to solidify its position as the financial capital of the world. Moreover, if the Brexit is a real possibility, Cameron is wise to line up some big non-European trading partners.

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