The humiliation that was the visit to Britain by President Xi Jinping of China reveals the uncomfortable truth that Europe, a (mostly) united continent, and one of the globe’s cornerstones of human rights protection, has decided that Chinese investment is actually that little bit more important than those boring old things we call fundamental human rights and values. The prospect of Chinese money is just far too alluring for European figure heads to dismiss on such trifling grounds.
At least we can now know for definite now that future archaeologists will discover that 21st century Europe was a continent inhabited by spineless invertebrates.
Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s former advisor appearing on BBC Newsnight described Xi’s visit as “the worst national humiliation since we went cap in hand to the IMF in the 1970s”. In a Similar vein, China expert James McGregor, warned: “If you act like a panting puppy, the object of your attention is going to think they have got you on a leash.”
While this might sound hyperbolic, Cameron & Osbourne, have been uncomfortably praising in staying on their best behavior and refraining from any public criticism of China. In the entire three days we have heard no critique of Chinese policy on crushing activists or anyone with a dissenting opinion, the enslavement of workers, the aggressive imperialism and relentless Cyber-attacks on business and government.
In fact, the only time Jinping was grilled on his country’s human rights record was during a press conference in London when BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg – rather stingingly– asked:
“Why do you think members of the British public should be pleased to do more business with a country that is not democratic, is not transparent and has a deeply, deeply troubling attitude towards human rights?”
In response Jinping replied:
“Coming to human rights issue that you asked China attaches great importance to the protection of human rights. We combine the universal value of human rights with China’s reality and we have found a part of human rights development suited to China’s national conditions…
On the issue of human rights, I think the people of our respective countries are in the best position to tell, and China is ready to, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, increase exchanges and cooperation with the UK and other countries in the area of human rights.”
Cameron in vehement defence, rejected the notion that the British public were faced with a choice between business and human rights. Instead he argued that the stronger the mutual economic relationship, the stronger Britain’s position would be in influencing “other issues”.
What are the consequence for Europe on Growing Interdependence?
Does rolling out the red carpet for Jinping and striking a big money deal which compromises on human rights really have a mutual benefit for both sides in the long term? Your guess is as good as mine but how can it be beneficial that Europe’s biggest economies are becoming economically dependent on an increasingly powerful undemocratic State which refuses to uphold the same basic values, both human and economic as ourselves?
The damaging effects of this economic relationship are already becoming apparent. No more so than last year, when Germany put its relationship with China above its relationship with the European Union when it undermined the European Commission by opposing its proposed fines on China for “unfair and destructive dumping of solar panels” below cost price in the EU.
We European citizens should be reasonably concerned that China is looking to bypass the European Union and deal directly with single States in its trade deals. Germany’s exports to China reached a colossal 74.5 billion euro in 2014, 45% of all exports from the EU. China has now set its sights on winning big with Britain. This is an intentional undermining of the fragile European project and we should all be questioning how “united” the EU can be on the global stage when our most powerful economies are developing such vested interests in China.
On the same segment on Newsnight, Steve Hilton alluded to the false dichotomy between economic prosperity if Britain strikes a deal with China or an economic slump if they refuse. Instead he proposes Europe should be seeking economic ties with countries like India, a booming developing economy which is the world’s biggest democracy and believes in the same values and human rights as Europe.
Britain’s lavish hosting of Jinping is an embarrassment, highlights that the European Union is weak and that its States are unwilling to stand up for the values they were built upon. China is acting indignantly, disrespectfully and it is up to Europe to show backbone rather than risk everything in tying itself to a belligerent Beijing.