Archive

UK


Putting Security into Prime Minister May’s New Industrial Strategy

022682_a48f1744_edited1

The RUSI Newsbrief, 15 February, 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed post-Brexit industrial strategy is commendable. However, the UK must avoid the pitfalls of an overly mercantilist policy, especially when it comes to dealing with China.

The UK prime minister’s Green Paper on a new industrial strategy was written ‘to provoke debate’ and ‘start a consultation’ as part of Theresa May’s commitment to make the UK a global leader in free trade. This is a commendable drive to build both post-Brexit prosperity and a post-EU identity for Britain. However, the dangers of developing overly mercantilist policies are ever present and a laissez-faire approach to inbound foreign investment should be avoided, particularly when it comes to foreign ownership of critical national infrastructure (CNI). 

A growing number of autocratic states have become global trading partners, and while this is to be warmly welcomed, it is not without risks. China is of particular note in this regard. China is predicted to surpass the US as the largest cross-border investor by 2020 and has a reputation for large-scale projects and visionary economic planning. Furthermore, the prime minister declared in a recent BBC interview that the ‘golden era’ of UK–China relations is still in place.

Much of China’s economic miracle has been built on leap-frogging technologies, achieved through a mixture of cyber espionage and pushing foreign firms with desirable intellectual property into disadvantageous joint ventures with Chinese rivals. As far back as 2007, MI5 was alerting executives in Britain to the dangers of commercial espionage from Chinese state actors. The 2016 US-China Economic and Security Review Commission asserts that ‘reports of Chinese espionage against the United States have risen significantly over the past 15 years’, noting that while the emphasis has been on ‘defence industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical national infrastructure entities’. This article reviews three types of Chinese investment into foreign firms.

To continue reading, please click here.

Advertisements

How cautious can we afford to be about foreign investment?

chinamoney-1400x788

CapX, 31 January, 2017 (with Alex Manzoor)

So we all now know all about Theresa May’s industrial strategy for Britain. In addition to cutting red tape and regulation, the Prime Minister wants her Government to promote innovation, with the creation of a £4.7 billion fund to pay for research and by providing £556 million for the “Northern Powerhouse” project.

Naturally, the reception from the business community has been warm; they’re more than happy for an increase in public investment into the economy.

But the Prime Minister has yet to spell out her plan for dealing with foreign investment. And this is a key issue for her government. In an age of growing protectionism, she must carefully walk the line between encouraging inbound investment from foreign firms, and safeguarding Britain’s national security from those global companies working under state control.

As was the case with the funding for Hinkley Point, which the Prime Minister delayed over the summer, the greatest worry for many countries has been Chinese investment. This is partly because there has been a spike in Chinese investment abroad, but also because the nature of their investment tends to be in tech and critical national infrastructure sectors.

We are seeing barriers to their money going up worldwide. In August, for example, the Australian government blocked Chinese firms from bidding for a controlling stake in its largest electricity network. Then, in October, Berlin blocked a Chinese takeover of one of its largest chip manufacturers, following security concerns.

Shortly thereafter, the US Treasury took the unusual step of nullifying the part of the sale that included Aixtron Inc., an American-based subsidiary, following “credible evidence that the foreign interest exercising control might take action that threatens to impair our national security”.

It is true that an overly tough screening regime could militate against the Prime Minister’s new global objectives, particularly as we tout for business outside of the EU. But there must be some effort to screen investment in a regular and transparent manner. Only this would reassure foreign investors, British business, and our security services.

So how do we do it? Well let’s take a look at what other Western liberal democracies have done about investment security.

The best known example is the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Chaired by the US Treasury, this inter-agency grouping reviews transactions which might result in an American business being controlled by a foreign person or have an effect on US national security.

A transaction is first examined over a period of 30 days to ascertain its national security implications. The CFIUS then decides whether to approve the transaction or initiate an investigation.

An investigation would give the CFIUS another 45 days to decide whether to permit the transaction, impose conditions or refer the case to the President who can then prevent the transaction taking place. In 2012, President Obama cited national security risks when he blocked the Chinese-owned company Sany’s attempt to purchase wind farm projects in Oregon near the Naval Weapons System Training Facility where the military flies unmanned drones and electronic-warfare planes.

Similarly, Australia has its Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), which advises the Treasurer and the Government on foreign investment policy. Again, it does this largely by examining proposed investments in Australia and making recommendations.

The Treasurer can prohibit or impose conditions if there are concerns about the national interest as there were over two bids by the Chinese State Grid Corporation and Cheung Kong Infrastructure for the state-owned Ausgrid electricity company. Worth billions of Australian dollars, the bids were blocked by the FRIB citing “national security” concerns.

France also has a body to regulate inward investment. Before 2014, foreign investors in the technology, defence and betting sectors would have to notify the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance (MINEFI) before receiving authorisation. In 2014, the French government extended this oversight to the energy, transport, telecoms, water and health sectors – all areas of critical national infrastructure.

The new decree also ensured that non-EU investors’ proposals must pass muster under European Court of Justice case law, meaning that measures restricting the free movement of capital within the EU should be limited to the protection of public order and safety. The rejection of any transaction would  be on the basis of national interest, under which national security is a vital component.

It is not without irony that China has one of the most rigorous investment screening processes in the world, with a significant proportion of its economy off-limits to foreign investors.

Equally, why should the UK abandon its security or its values simply because Brexit is making growth a priority. Mrs May’s government is going to have to think carefully about its approach to economic growth and where money is going to come from.

That is why having a formal body or process, which carries out non-intrusive safeguards of investors into Britain’s economy would not be wild, suspicious, or paranoid. In fact, a brief glance around the world reveals that many other advanced economies have a process. It is just a question of common sense.

 


Foreign Investment in Critical Areas like Nuclear Power Need a Formal Vetting Process

hinkley-point-a

LSE Business Review, October 11, 2016

One of the first decisions taken by Theresa May as prime minister was to delay deciding on the £18 billion Hinkley Point nuclear power project. Because it was a centrepiece project as part of former chancellor George Osborne’s “Golden Age” of closer bilateral ties with China, the issue was instantly politicised, provoking an intense debate in Parliament and across government departments. Defenders of the deal included the Chinese embassy and foreign ministry, which came out publicly to apply pressure on May over the issue.

Meanwhile, those close to the prime minister – formerly home office secretary – pointed out the security risks to Britain’s critical national infrastructure and national security. In the end, a face-saving compromise was reached: the Sino-French consortium would go ahead with the deal with Her Majesty’s Government keeping a majority stake in the company to calm nerves within the security agencies.

The fact that it was a Chinese company which provoked the issue was not incidental: Chinese companies – private and state-owned – have become increasingly active in investing and acquiring businesses and assets in economies across the developed world, particularly in the US (no.1), Australia (no.3), and the UK (no.1 in Europe). In 2014, the FT noted that China’s outbound investment had exceeded its domestic investment and the country was on its way to becoming the world’s largest cross-border investor. As the Hinkley Point debate was flaring up here in London, Australian Treasury Minister Scott Morrison announced that two separate Chinese bids to lease Australia’s largest electricity grid would be blocked for “national security” reasons. It is obvious that May is not alone in her concerns.

To some, China’s focus on infrastructure has a nefarious side: after all, national defence and intelligence agencies depend on critical national infrastructure (CNI) to do their job. To others, China’s focus on CNI is the result of its own domestic economy, which is heavily weighted in favor of big, capital-intensive infrastructure projects. Whatever the case, it is certain that many more private and state-owned Chinese investors will seek to purchase stakes in British companies and infrastructure. Some of these – like stakes in the UK’s hotel industry are clearly benign. Others – like the bid for Global Switch, Britain’s largest data centre, may have repercussions for national security, in the wake of the UK MOD’s move to cloud computing. It may also have privacy concerns as a recent NATO report suggests that China is behind many hacks in the West and is said, by Stratfor, to have the largest domestic mass surveillance apparatus of any country.

Regardless of the answer, the need is clear in the UK for a more formal process than has taken place up until now. Australia and the United States – two of the largest recipients of Chinese investment – have long had treasury-linked agencies to deal with the foreign investment and security: the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and the Foreign Investment Review Bureau (FIRB).

Naturally, their approach may or may not be a right fit for the UK, which has a strong culture of unregulated investment, but it would benefit both Government and business to initiate some sort of discussion on what is currently a very grey area. Such a review process would calm nerves on both sides – including those of Chinese investors who may have been riled by Hinkley Point. Clearly, Britain wants Chinese investment and even welcomes it within certain parts of the national infrastructure, but not all of its parts. What is most needed, according to Malcolm Rifkind – former Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee – is oversight, “This project went from consideration to contract, without ministers even hearing about it. There must be some sort of accountability with deals of this nature.” Under Rifkind, the ISC produced a strongly critical report in 2013 on the BT-Huawei deal in which BT was supplied components by a company said to have links with the Chinese military.

Prime minister May could best start this conversation in the Cabinet Office and bring members of the security community and business community together in order to hammer out the powers and processes of such a review body. One idea is to make it a committee or subcommittee within the cabinet office, with its own staff. The committee might be composed of business leaders or senior bureaucrats from within relevant ministries, Trade, Treasury, Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. Staffers could be seconded from among these same ministries. Certainly, the Treasury would have to have a large stake in any organization to give it traction, perhaps as Chair. Then there is the question of what it would do: in short, it would create guidelines for firms which operate inside Britain’s critical national infrastructure. It would also investigate adding new areas – particularly those in newly-developing technologies and computing – to areas of sensitivity. Whether it would be given teeth, or simply remain an advisory body – depends very much on whether May can rally her cabinet around the idea to pass legislation in Parliament. Either way, the committee could bring clarity to a gray area.

Creating such a committee makes sense for the UK at the moment. The number of Chinese investments into British infrastructure are only set to rise, and the UK is reconfiguring its EU-dated regulations. While the watchword of the day for many concerned British companies will be “continuity”, this process of rewriting the UK’s legal framework does provide Prime Minister May an opportunity to create a formal review process. Furthermore, a process might remind the UK of the need for investor diversity.

Winnie King, Professor of Chinese International Political Economy at Bristol University states, “The UK needs to frame its approach in terms of Brexit: “Now that we have left the bed of European supra-national governance, we shouldn’t just jump into bed with another big actor. We need to diversify.”

A recent report by the Oxford Review of Economic Policy has challenged some of the myths around Chinese infrastructure projects. The UK has had the fastest growing economy in the Group of Seven for the past four years. It deals in high value, not high volume goods, and its manufacturing includes luxury smart high-tech firms like McLaren, Deep Mind, and others. Britain has remained competitive and in the top 10 global economies by remaining open to foreign investment: a review process will not change that. But it will make future investment more open-eyed and transparent.


Are Japan and the UK Trading Places?

japan_1

The National Interest, July 18, 2016

At times, British and American policymakers and academics have wondered if Japan might become the “Britain of the Far East” by playing a larger role in foreign affairs, more supportive of the liberal rules-based system, and more in line with American global security strategy. Britain would have responsibility for the Western hemisphere, while Japan covered the Asia-Pacific. However, as the past decade has seen an emboldened and increasingly capable Japan attempting define a role for itself in global security, the same period has seen a UK seemingly less able or less willing to shoulder its responsibility. A combination of post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan war-weariness saw Parliament usurp Prime Minister Cameron’s attempt to intervene in Syria in 2013, while Brexit and the slight chance of a second Scottish referendum have created political chaos in Westminster, raising the possibility that Britain may be too consumed by internal affairs to take part in foreign policy for the next three to four years.

Of course, the machinery of government will go on, but Britain’s loss of focus occurs at a time critical to the liberal international order. On one flank, China pushes hard to gain de facto control of one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes, and in doing so establishes a baseline for its attitude toward international law and smaller powers. On the other, Russia continues to mobilize itself domestically with nationalism and anti-Westernism, in a seeming attempt to recover its Cold War–era buffer zone of satellite states. Though Theresa May as the new Prime Minister has shown some resolve – with regards to Trident – the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling passed by virtually unnoticed in Whitehall, immersed as they were in the formation of the new Cabinet, the Turkish Coup, and the terror attack in Nice.

Despite the UK’s apparent drift, Tokyo and London are optimal allies for the United States. Based off of the continents to which they belong, they have never quite fit into those continents, culturally or politically, showing instead a preference for naval power. Both are comparatively economically powerful within their regions, technologically advanced and governed by liberal democratic systems, sharing similar values to the United States. Because of those values, both have been traditionally strong financial supporters of the United Nations, as well as pillars of the slew of financial international government organizations that collectively made up Bretton Woods. That American policymakers occasionally compared them is not surprising.

The most famous instance of this analogy was within the influential 2000 Armitage-Nye Report, which by suggesting the parallel gave Tokyo an attractive and recognizable template to emulate. Despite skepticism that Japan would ever shift its defensive posture from the easy-riding Yoshida Doctrine, toward collective self-defense or contributing forces to conflicts outside the Asia-Pacific, Tokyo has taken a long slew of incremental steps in both directions and developed new security ties with Australia, India and even the United Kingdom. While some would argue that these steps are still extremely limited, the fact remains that Prime Minister Abe’s “proactive contribution to peace” is a long way from former Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi’s insistence that Japan only had a “pretense of a foreign policy.”

As the United Kingdom reels from the June 23 Brexit referendum and struggles protracted Brexit negotiations and the possibility of a second Scottish referendum, it would appear that Japan is indeed becoming the “Britain of the East,” while Britain seems to be turning into a (Yoshida-era) “Japan of the West.” For it is quite clear that protracted negotiations required for exiting the European market, combined with the hasty search for new foreign trade agreements with economic powers such as the United States, India, China and Japan, will take up much of the energies of Whitehall’s mandarins. While this should only take five years or so, it will nevertheless force a loss of focus for Britain’s elites on its security contribution in the world. The possibility of Scottish independence would only add to the misery, stripping it of many of its best capabilities at precisely the time when NATO, Europe and the world need them most.

It is possible that as a result of these repeated blows, Britain will seek to recover the “splendid isolation” of Lord Salisbury, sans empire, and sans splendor, focusing instead on trade and keeping aloof of continental goings-on. Or it might also seek to leverage its financial sector as a leverage between the old hegemon—the United States—and the world’s newest superpower, China. The third possibility, about which I have written previously, is that Britain could double down on its role as a pillar of the liberal international order. It has already demonstrated that Brexit will not stand in the way of its commitments to eastern Europe by committing to the stationing of troops there.

Coming a full circle, it seems that there is much that Japan and the United Kingdom might do together to add value to their capabilities at this time of uncertainty and change. There is already talk within London’s corridors of the desirability of an FTA with Japan, though this will doubtless take time to negotiate. The two are currently engaged in early defense-industrial cooperative development, and have been widening strategic and foreign policy discussions in the defense minister–foreign minister talks (2+2). The possibility for greater U.S.-UK-Japan trilateral cooperation opens up all sorts of possibilities within the intelligence, cyber and space sectors. Regardless of Brexit or continued incrementalism within Japan, both London and Tokyo have a large range of institutional and industrial assets at their fingertips. Both are also seeking closer ties with New Delhi at the moment, a further area of potential cooperation.

As we look toward the remainder of this summer, we see a China that is highly likely to build up its military assets in the South China Sea, ignoring the recent finding of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Simultaneously, we might see calls from within the EU to drop the arms embargo on China from states that have vested industrial interests in doing so. Britain’s absence from the EU’s top tables could have a destabilizing effect on Asia’s already precarious balance of power. Perhaps London and Tokyo might craft a bilateral diplomatic venture within Brussels and the capitals of Europe in that eventuality.

There is something to be said about the UK losing its sheen precisely as Japan begins to step up to the plate as a contributor to global security, but for those who believe the UK is out for the count, should consider London’s pluckiness and the deep support among its population and foreign policy elites for many of the liberal values that undergird the international system. It also has a long history of maritime operations, intelligence and expeditionary warfare that make it a superb partner for Japan. The fact that both work closely with American forces and seek interoperability with NATO allies creates an even deeper synergy for bilateral cooperation. At a time of uncertainty and change, one can never have too many friends.

What Kind of Foreign Policy and Security Posture should a Post-Brexit Britain Adopt?

RUSI Commentary, July 4th, 2016

EU-mock

Although British foreign policy is likely to encounter a variety of hardships after the withdrawal from the EU, some of the options still offer interesting opportunities which should not diminish the country’s international standing and contribution.

The decision to leave the EU is now behind us. Ahead lie months, perhaps even years of wrangling – with the EU, with Scotland, and all the unpleasantness that both will entail. However, once the storm dies down – and eventually it will – Britons are going to have to decide what kind of power we want to be. We will have to try and answer what kind of role we want to have, and what capacities that role will require. We will have to imagine a Britain without Scotland, and attempt to construct a role that is commensurate with the scaled-down ambitions and capabilities. Thus,  Britain might look forward to three possible future postures. These are – in shorthand – Little Britain, Middleman, and Best Friends Forever.

The first posture involves a Britain that sees the world as an increasingly less friendly place, beginning a long gradual withdrawal from global affairs as a result. It might continue to be a formal ally of the United States, and perhaps even remain in NATO, but will only play the bare minimum role required to maintain those relationships, passing through crises as obliquely as possible. To all intents and purposes, the UK of this future will look like Cold War-era Japan, formally allied with the US, but offloading its responsibilities, a free rider on the efforts and resources of others. Instead of contributing to global security, it will allow its narrower interests to determine its actions, a parochial mercantilism taking pride of place in Whitehall. It will be Lord Salisbury’s ‘splendid isolation’ without the Empire and, perhaps, without the splendour. This would be the ‘peaceful shire’ Britain, with London leaving foreign policy to others, sipping tea and playing cricket on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

The second posture might be called Middleman, and has some similarities with the first option in that mercantilism, writ large, begins to dominate Britain’s foreign policy calculations. Shorn of the size and confidence afforded it by membership to the EU, Britain will approach new developing markets with gusto and abandon. Seeing values as ‘unaffordable’, this Britain will swiftly jettison any pretence of shoring up the global liberal values system, seeing the modern international system as one large test of survival of the fittest. The Osborne Doctrine, so named for the Chancellor’s warm China engagement policies, will be accelerated and see London attempting to carve out a middleman role for itself between the old hegemon – the US – and the emerging one – -China. Counting on the UK’s certainty that only the City of London, with its knowledge and history of currency trading, can help Beijing internationalise the Chinese currency as a global currency Britain will dance between the various centres of power, attempting to play banker to the great powers. It could become Switzerland-Plus, attempting to exert power behind the scenes, without favourites or friends.

Finally, there is the Best Friends Forever scenario, which would see Britain bounce off the painful divorce with the EU with a renewed sense of purpose and identity as an upholder of Western liberalism. In this future, the UK will still have to run to new markets, such as India, China and others, but it will balance mercantilism with a strong emphasis on values and allies, doubling down on its NATO commitments in Eastern Europe and re-fortifying ties with Washington. This would see it re-engaging with old allies like Australia, and strengthening nascent security ties with democracies such as Japan India. Security diversity would become a part of British security posture and as with today, London would seek to bring together coalitions and groups of like-minded states whenever crises struck. This will see Britain becoming the ultimate middle power in security diplomacy and shoring up the rules-based system through strong support of Western allies and of regulatory norms relating to space and cybersecurity.

How viable are any of these three scenarios? Of course, as with reality, the future UK will exhibit aspects of all three at various times, and under different prime ministers. However, if any leader were to take Britain down the path of the first two, it would be great loss to the international liberal system. In many ways, the third option offers the most interesting and exciting possibilities under current circumstances. For those who worry about the US’s willingness to welcome the UK back into the fold, one might note that President Obama has already moved to reaffirm the importance of the special relationship in the wake of Brexit. Once away from the EU model, Britain – and its allies – might find new opportunities. The ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing arrangement has long been a pillar of global security for the Anglosphere. Policy elites in the UK might push to revitalise the Five Eyes at the political level, moving it beyond its shadowy corridors to a more strategic forum level. Five Eyes summits and working groups at the agency and ministerial level could become a viable vehicle for the UK and its closest allies to uphold the liberal order and at least tackle the growing Sino-Russian sense of revanchism. Modelled on the ad hoc minilateralism and trilateralism currently seen in the Asia Pacific, a Five Eyes arrangement could even consider one-day creating a pathway to closer association for long-standing liberal allies like Japan, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

While some kinks may need to be ironed out in the special relationship with the United States, Britain’s urban educated elites have more in common with American liberalism than they realise. Whether or not he can acknowledge it, Jeremy Corbyn is more likely to find his soulmate in a Bernie Sanders rather than in a Vladimir Putin. And his followers are more likely to find their beliefs in social diversity, social justice and human rights reflected in the US’s own progressive society than in a Russia that outlaws homosexuality or a China that imprisons human rights lawyers.

The UK should remember its interests, but also note that these need not be purely commercial. Values and old alliances are a part of British identity. Although the UK faces doubtless hardship ,it could also be on the cusp of exciting opportunities and possibilities.


The Rise of the New Authoritarians?

The National Interest, 08 February, 2016

5154073529_46fa6f43a1_o

The news last week that the U.S. defense budget will increase dramatically to face challenges in Asia and Europe came as no surprise. In many ways, one could argue that it marks the beginning of a new deterrence strategy by the United States, reacting to the rise of Chinese and Russian assertiveness: Force will be matched by force. Moscow and Beijing will be discouraged from picking off the smaller and less-capable members and allies of the West. Latvia will not become a new Ukraine. Chinese bullying in the South China Sea will remain just that, bullying. It is clear, however, that there is more going on here than simply the “rise of the rest” as was previously thought.

There seems to be a new age of silent competition and geopolitics taking place. It is riddled with grand ambitions and grand stakes. In one corner is a fractured West, one-time victor of the Cold War, now exhausted by fifteen years of inconclusive wars with Islamic fundamentalism; in the other stands a confident array of “new authoritarians,” enriched and empowered by their gradual acceptance of Western economics over inefficient state control.

For many, the implications of the new geopolitics are long term and vague, though there is growing awareness that the future of global governance and architecture is in peril. Will such architecture be truly pluralistic or merely carry the trappings of democracy in the style favored by new authoritarian regimes?

For some, though, the stakes are immediate and real. Ukrainians who desired European-style pluralism know this. Voters in Taiwan’s vibrant democracy—on display last month in historic elections—know this. Their fate had they been under Beijing’s control might be glimpsed in the quiet death of Hong Kong-style democracy over the past two years. The new age is a competition of ideas with neo-authoritarian states, but it is unlikely to resemble the Cold War. It is not even likely to be openly acknowledged. However, it is a real competition and its weapons are disinformation, dodgy referendums and delegitimization campaigns against the West and its values. Its new soldiers are legions of “50-Cent Bloggists” and the organs of state propaganda pretending to be legitimate media. The new battlefields are the periphery of the West, inside the Western left, in cyberspace and in the minds of Western populations. So, how did it come to this?

Both new authoritarian states lost the battle of ideas in the Cold War—to the chagrin of their hardliners. China lost it in Tiananmen Square in 1989, while Moscow lost it in front of the Russian Parliament in 1991. Unlike the type of global reordering that takes place after actual wars (when victorious states can occupy and reorder the domestic systems of the losing side), the end of proxy wars is far less definitive. Certainly, the West sought to influence domestic battles from afar, through aid packages and legions of development consultants, and inviting greater people-to-people links with the West—especially through higher education. But ultimately, they failed to persuade key constituents in both states to adopt political liberalism alongside economic reforms.

How is the West to deal with this new era of silent competition? The West cannot resort to Cold War–style containment strategies to keep Russian and Chinese assertiveness at bay. Their economies are simply far too integrated and it would be impossible to de-link without serious damage to the global economy. Furthermore, the world’s problems are simply too great for the West to attempt to resolve without the “new authoritarians.” A viable political resolution to the Syrian Civil War—and the large numbers of refugees destabilizing Western Europe—is ultimately to be found in Moscow, not in London. And Putin knows this. Iran, climate change and North Korea are all areas where the West must cooperate with Russia and China. So what can the West do?

First, the West must begin to realize that the new authoritarians are in fact authoritarian. Knowing that changes how one deals with these states. Second, we must begin a wider discussion on how to counter the ambitions of the new authoritarians: What can be done to maintain coherence and cohesion? The new game is from afar and yet takes place in our living rooms; it’s about undermining rather than directly attacking and it goes after the weak and dispossessed. Its greatest conduit seems to be through the Internet and through the so-called “new media.” Why do Western states continue to allow the tools of state propaganda—Russia Today, Press TV and the CCTV—to operate freely in the West? Why do they accept that their own media will be repressed in those states? While the new competition is in the realm of ideas, it is clear that the hard power of the West acts as a deterrent to mis-adventurism. The new budget is a step in the right direction, but Europe and American allies in Asia must match that determination. It is sad that liberal democracy did not prevail in China and Russia. Somehow, one senses that the future of the liberal order rests on how the West frames this coming era and what counter-strategies are employed to defend core Western values. As the supposed Chinese curse has it, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do.


The PRC: Britain’s New ‘Special Relationship?’

Xi-guard

 

PacNet, CSIS Pacific Forum, October 27

Chinese President Xi Jinping received the reddest of red-carpet treatments in London last week, with Xi being treated to a 21-gun salute, a royal carriage ride down the Mall, an address to both Houses of Parliament, followed by a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace and a visit to the Prime Minister’s official residence Chequers.  The fact that British Prime Minister David Cameron used the full powers of the British state to welcome the Chinese leader has many wondering about the future of UK-China ties as the two proclaim a new “golden era” of bilateral relations, and agree to create a “global comprehensive strategic partnership.”

While many in London question the timing – this year Beijing mismanaged a stock market slump while simultaneously tightening control over dissidents – the Treasury attitude is simply to bulldoze the new China approach through other departments of government, including a skeptical Foreign Office. The visit and the assumptions it’s based on raise questions about Britain’s tactical understanding of China. After all, as Evan Medeiros, former senior staffer on Asia on President Obama’s National Security Staff, told the Financial Times, “if you give in to Chinese pressure, it will inevitably lead to more Chinese pressure.”

The seemingly ‘new’ mercantilist approach of Chancellor George Osborne is deeply imbedded in historical traditions of British foreign policy-making, and has run parallel and sometimes counter to Britain’s values-oriented foreign policy. Long before Henry Kissinger said it, Lord Palmerston claimed that Britain had no “permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” Britain has always viewed trade as one of these permanent interests, since power is derived from economic standing. This is evident throughout the last century: the UK was the largest source of long-term foreign direct investment in the United States, played a pivotal role in Japanese industrialization, and was one of Germany’s main trade partners prior to both the first and second world wars. If the new China policy is a mistake, Britain has made it before.

The Soviet Union was the exception to the rule: blame Russian communist views of trade. Therefore, it is unremarkable that Osborne wishes to hitch the UK wagon to China’s rising star. Seen from Whitehall, this approach marries traditional notions of liberal trade internationalism with the promise of profit for City of London financiers. The Downing Street website puts this financial promise at the front of its webpage describing Xi’s visit, claiming it will “unlock” more than $48 billion of commercial deals across energy, finance, technology, and education. The question is whether all this promise will be delivered and at what cost to Britain’s security and freedom of maneuver.

Unlike Britain, China does not prize the bilateral relationship for short-term economic gains, but rather seeks to use British financial acumen to lift itself into ascendancy. The internationalization of the RMB, using London as a trading hub, and a scheme to link the London and Shanghai stock markets – both announced during Xi’s visit – are to build the foundation of a new Chinese order. Xi was not in London just to meet the Queen. He was there to make deals, buying the experience and know-how of the British financial world, and he has the cash to close the deal. The $48 billion that he’s put on the table could be just a start: despite the slowing of its economy and huge public debt, China has more than $1.53 trillion in sovereign wealth funds. Furthermore, London would profit immensely from becoming the primary RMB trade hub, which is a very real possibility says Yang Du, head of Thomson Reuters China business desk. Currently, Britain is the eighth largest destination for Chinese investment: when Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Osborne said at the Buckingham Palace Banquet that they want Britain to be China’s “best partner in the West,” this is what they mean.

Caution is in order, however. The Osborne Doctrine suffers from several fatal flaws. First, it is hype built on hype. Several economists view Britain’s strategy toward China as over-relying on foreign investment to sustain growth. Rather than passing the costs of building British infrastructure – such as three planned nuclear power plants – on to China, why not borrow at 3 percent and maintain control over processes, control over quality, and most important, maintain the capacity of local industry? This off-shoring is rich in irony: Britain – home to the industrial revolution – is paying China – one of the most recent adherents of the industrial revolution – to finance and make British products in Britain. As if to drive home the point, Xi’s visit was preceded by the bankruptcy of a leading company in the British steel industry, a result of Chinese steel dumping this year.

The second flaw is that China does not seem serious about upholding either the rules-based order that Britain helped build after World War II or the liberal economic and political values implicit in that order. Prime Minister Cameron’s silence over human rights issues for the sake of finance was widely criticized in the British media with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei claiming that it was in the name of profit. The Chinese ambassador had even warned that Xi would be “offended” if human rights were raised during the visit. The main problem with this approach is that it is simply out of step with the British public, which expects an ethical foreign policy from Whitehall. Power and finance are not enough.

This misplaced faith in Chinese investment promises and the willingness to downplay human rights issues have not gone down well in Washington, where London’s embrace of authoritarian China looks increasingly out-of-step with its regional concerns. This is the third flaw of Osborne’s strategy: Britain is out of touch with other liberal democracies like Germany and France and how they balance economic policies with principles. London’s willingness to join the AIIB without consulting or even alerting the G-7 was a major blow to the group, but it also damaged British prestige.

Britain is increasingly out of step with Washington, which sees its trade relationship with China rapidly eclipsed by issues such as cyber security and maritime security in the Asia Pacific. Osborne’s willingness to throw open certain sectors of the economy critical to national security to Chinese investment strikes many as naïve if not dangerous: a 2013 British Parliamentary committee issued a scathing report of the government’s willingness to award large contracts in the telecommunications sector to Huawei, a Chinese company with purported links to the People’s Liberation Army. Though Cameron did receive a joint statement from Xi over cyber security during the visit, it is no stronger than the one Xi gave in Washington, and probably has less meaning.

Finally, there is the flaw of unintended consequences: Beijing’s belief that Britain – a major player in the current liberal rules-based order – is bandwagoning for profit may encourage China to attempt to dismantle the system in favor of one that favors Beijing’s autocratic preferences. No one believes that Britain could play a pivotal role if a conflict broke out in the Asia Pacific, but Western cohesion may help deter Chinese adventurism. This regional aspect highlights the shortsightedness of the Osborne Doctrine because it assumes that as long as China’s misbehavior occurs in the Asia-Pacific region, it does not impinge on British interests. This belies Britain’s dependence on trade routes that transit the contested South China Sea and East China Sea waters.

President Xi’s carriage ride down the Mall to Buckingham Palace was rich in symbolism; the image of Prime Minister Cameron kowtowing to the Chinese president evokes Britain’s first diplomatic mission to China in 1793, when Lord Macartney traveled to meet the Qianlong Emperor in Peking. His attempt to open trade between the two empires ended in failure as the two held incompatible worldviews and practiced incompatible diplomatic cultures. Seeing President Xi and his wife dressed in Western clothes, in front of a trade delegation to Britain would seem to indicate that two states understand each much better now. However, Cameron’s willingness to trade British principles and significant concessions for investment and market access show that perhaps London is no closer to understanding Beijing than it was 250 years ago.

The Syrian Intifada

a-shab yurid iskat an-nizam

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

In Pace

Peace in Korea and beyond

southseaconversations 讨论南海

China comments on the South (China) Sea disputes

Christopher Phillips

Academic, Writer, Commentator

tokyocooney

(does america)

Philosophical Politics

political philosophy of current events

Minh Thi's blog

pieces of me

North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

National Post

Canadian News, World News and Breaking Headlines

Quartz

Quartz is a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.

TIME

Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates

Moscow-on-Thames

Sam Greene - London & Moscow

kirstyevidence

Musings on research, international development and other stuff

The Rights Angle

Francesca Pizzutelli's blog on human rights and human beings

Bayard & Holmes

If you're in a fair fight, you're using poor tactics

Grand Blog Tarkin

A roundtable of strategists from across all space and time.

Sky Dancing

a place to discuss real issues

Oscar Relentos

Welcome to my catharsis

mkseparatistreport

A Blog Focused on Bringing Policy and Chinese language Translations Relating to Separatists and Terrorism

playwithlifeorg

4 out of 5 dentists recommend this WordPress.com site

HarsH ReaLiTy

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

Variety as Life Spice

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” - Oscar Wilde

KURT★BRINDLEY

writing ★ producing ★ editing

Foreign Policy

the Global Magazine of News and Ideas

Top 10 of Anything and Everything!!!

Animals, Gift Ideas, Travel, Books, Recycling Ideas and Many, Many More

Eleanor Yamaguchi

Specialist in Japanese History and Culture

ABDALLAH ATTALLAH

Futurist | Disruptor | Coach | Reformer

Anglo-Japan Alliance

A new type of alliance

Small House Bliss

Small house designs with big impact

Europe Asia Security Forum

European perspectives on Asian security, and vice-versa

Shashank Joshi

Royal United Services Institute | Harvard University

secretaryclinton.wordpress.com/

A PRIVATE BLOG DEVOTED TO FOREIGN POLICY & THE SECRETARY OF STATE

Adventures in (Post) Gradland

Thoughts on life after the PhD

springdaycomedy

Just another WordPress.com site

James Strong

Junior academic working on British foreign policy

Justice in Conflict

On the challenges of pursuing justice

Politics: Middle East

an analysis of the contemporary middle east

Sino-NK

Sino-NK is a research website for Sinologists and Koreanists.