Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are hardly role models. But unlike David Cameron and George Osborne, at least they had the self-respect to meet the Chinese leader on equal terms
Iain Martin thinks that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Britain marks the beginning of the downfall of George Osborne, who has assiduously courted and flattered his way back into the Chinese government’s good graces:
Of course we have to trade with China, and it is going to be especially vital for the City of London, but do we have to be quite so shameless and pathetic about it? Osborne is the architect of the UK’s China policy, and has made sure that everyone knows it. Now, the optics of this state visit, as viewed on television news, look increasingly like a national humiliation.
It’s hard to disagree with that assessment, and to feel a mounting sense of shame at Britain’s determinedly mercantilist foreign policy. It may reap financial and political rewards, but craven spectacles such as this gravely undermine Britain’s role as a world leader.
It is all the more galling because it is so unnecessary. No disrespect intended to Spain’s westward neighbour, but Britain is not Portugal. We are not, thankfully, some middle-ranking economic and military power. Our armed forces may be worryingly pared back and our workforce’s productivity frustratingly low, but Britain is still one of the few indispensable nations. Though we have been introspective and full of self doubt of late, our fundamentals – world leading firms, popular culture, arts and music, legal system and democracy – are among the most popular and most envied in the world.
None of this is to say that we should not have welcomed Xi Jinping to Britain – we are right to do so. It is absolutely in our interests to forge and maintain good diplomatic relations with China. But we should not allow ourselves to be seduced or intimidated by China’s new economic and geopolitical clout. Continued Chinese growth – and the ongoing stability of their autocratic, dictatorial regime – depends on maintaining friendly relationships with key countries like Britain. Neither country can much afford to freeze the other out for the long term.
The problem is not the Chinese – it’s us. It is the attitude of some of our politicians and their friends in the media, who seem too eager to buy into the pessimistic narrative of British decline and waning relevance. Listening to some of them, one would almost think that we were back in the dark, pre-Thatcher days of the 1970s all over again.
Back in 1972, when Britain truly was floundering in the economic doldrums, riven by industrial strife and a failed post-war consensus while the United States grappled with problems of their own, President Richard Nixon travelled to Beijing to “reset” America’s relations with China in far more tense and unpredictable circumstances than those which bring Xi Jinping to London this week.
As a general rule, it’s best to avoid the examples set by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. But on this one particular occasion, our political and media class might take a useful lesson in terms of how they conduct themselves.
Music: “Cheers” chorus from the opera “Nixon in China” by John Adams
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