Cameron’s conduct in China was bad politics, bad ethics and exceptionally bad foreign policy

by Sam Fowles

It’s that time of year again: Winter enough for the christmas lights to go up on Clapham High Street but still autumn enough for everyone to complain about it. The time of year when the fact that the hot water cylinder in my four person house only produces enough hot water for three stops becoming “something we’ll laugh about later in life” and starts becoming a significant cause of frostbite. Basically it’s getting cold. It’s the time of year when we all start wistfully staring at summer breaks in between the usual workplace internet pastimes of Buzzfeed and cat videos.

David Cameron, of course, isn’t restrained by such limitations. With winter descending on London he took 100 of his closest friends on a field trip to China. There to engage in such hi jinks as fungus banquets, playing with puppet horses (actually this one sounds pretty fun) and not talking about human rights.

I’m being flippant but there’s a serious point here. Cameron’s trip to China and his pledge that Britain will be China’s “biggest advocate in the West”, was bad politics, bad ethics and exceptionally bad foreign policy.

I’m not about to join in the various comparison’s of China to a string of historical baddies (although the Kaiser simile in the FT is particularly fun). China is a danger to the world because of it’s actions in the here and now. Even more of a threat are international lightweights like Cameron who think that jet setting around the world’s ugliest regimes with a carpet bag full of British products and a plastic smile makes them a statesman. Those with democratic mandates were conspicuous by their absence amongst the Prime Ministers “representatives of Britain. Evil may flourish when good men do nothing, but it’s certainly helped when mediocre men give it a round of applause.

The bad politics has been fairly well covered. Cameron came into office advocating a tougher stance on China’s human rights violations. He met with the Dalai Lama, prompting a diplomatic freeze from Beijing. Then he tried to row back, prompting some particularly unstatesmanlike groveling. This is amateur. You can’t imagine Barack Obama, Angela Merkel or even Francois Hollande accepting the sort of snubs that Cameron has suffered while in China. Yet our Prime Minister smiles and laps up what scraps of friendship the Chinese are prepared to toss his way like the desperate cousin at a wedding. Cameron’s obsequiousness has raised the status of the Chinese leaders at his own expense. You don’t need a degree in international relations to see that this is a pretty poor negotiating tactic.

It’s also the wrong thing to do. China’s regime is repulsive to everything for which Britain should stand. There was a time when a free press, transparent and free trade and democratic government were the values which Britain aimed to export to the world. China has banned, tortured and persecuted journalists,  eliminated all independent forms of social media and treats international contract law with slightly less respect than Jack Sparrow has for the Pirates’ Code. Not to mention the fact that China has never held a general election and, every so often, they massacre huge swathes of their population.

It’s true that China has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty, but it has murdered or interned millions too. While it may seem like these numbers don’t compare, truly valuing humanity means that one political murder is too high a price to pay for prosperity. A million isn’t “a statistic”, it’s a crime against humanity. In addition, while those 600 million raised out of poverty may be able to eat, they can’t vote, write or even talk freely. They have exchanged one form of poverty for another.

Finally it’s bad foreign policy. Cameron’s action sends the message that trade (and only a very particular type of trade – I didn’t notice many SMEs or start-ups in the PM’s delegation) is more important than human rights. Opening up Britain to unfettered Chinese investment empowers unaccountable Chinese conglomerates at the expense of British people and the democratically elected British government.

Most importantly, if we accept the way that China, and particularly Chinese industry, treats people then we imperil our own hard won freedoms. When we legitimise China in the eyes of the world we legitimise the treatment of workers as little more than machines; the suppression of a vast range of freedoms. This isn’t just screwing some people in a foreign country, this impacts on us. The multinationals that provide the majority of both our goods and jobs have hardly demonstrated an abundance of concern for the welfare of their workers. Jobs flow to China because British workers demand inconvenient things like a safe working environment and a decent wage. We ignored this while it was just the jobs moulding plastic toys or sewing trainers. But it’s now car engineers, computer programmers and, possibly, finance. We can’t keep just finding new industries. We’re not losing jobs to China because they can do them better; we’re losing jobs to China because they can force people to do it cheaper and more dangerously and don’t have to worry about honouring contracts.

David Cameron sees Britain as a mere competitor in the “global race”. His abandonment of human rights in favour of trade is the unavoidable result of the inevitable tide of history. But he’s wrong. History is a product of the aggregate decisions of individuals. If Cameron continues to sacrifice the ideals of human rights and the rule of law in a craven pursuit of trade (on China’s terms) then he will disadvantage our economy and diminish our international influence. He will also have helped make the world a much worse place.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and blogs at the Huffington Post

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3 Responses to “Cameron’s conduct in China was bad politics, bad ethics and exceptionally bad foreign policy”

  1. southern voter says:

    China is a huge trading bloc.British companies must do more business with China.
    The UK has always been a trading nation and the government,companies and
    business organisations must do more to develop commercial links between the two
    Our country’s prosperity depends on it.

  2. Ex-labour says:

    Now here’s a story children, are we all seated comfortably?

    There was once a nasty evil bunch called the Tories. They were to blame for all the problems in the world, why even great uncle Hubert’s dose of the clap was the fault of that Maggie Thatcher. On election night Hubert got terribly drunk and was taken advantage of by one of those nasty evil Tory women, who was incidentally Chinese.

    Where were those lovely Labour people when you need them bother Ed mused. Brother David didn’t know, he was in New York. But chubby Ed was already in the process of rounding up the Welfare claimants to protest about those nasty evil Chinese who work hard and create more millionaires per day than any other country and have raised millions out of poverty.

    Ed turned to Chubby Ed and said ” you fat red faced cu…………..continued on page 94.

  3. David Cameron is backing China in her territorial dispute with Japan, a dispute in which no other country ought to take any part.

    The absolute imperative to remain out of these things is no small part of the absolute imperative to have no part in any pretence that that thing holed up on Taiwan is the Government of China, or that Taiwan is a country (those two are in any case mutually exclusive propositions), any more than something holed up on the Isle of Wight at the end of a British Civil War would be the Government of Britain, or would make the Isle of Wight a country, likewise mutually exclusive propositions.

    The self-styled Republic of China has had extremely few Western partisans since Nixon and the UN faced up to reality, but it had friends among the Crazies around Bush the Younger, and it would have them in and around any Administration headed by Hillary Clinton. Michael Gove and Liam Fox are probably fans.

    It has no aspiration to Taiwanese independence, which is an absurd idea. Nor does it claim jurisdiction only over China as she now exists. Rejecting the authority of the present Chinese Government to resolve territorial disputes, it lays claim to most of Mongolia, as well as to parts of Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bhutan and Burma.

    Have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with it.

    Cameron is also seeking a “Free Trade” Agreement between China and the EU, so as to do to European workers what Most Favored Nation Status for China has done for American workers. Labour has already made as clear as need be that it intends to vote against the “Free Trade” Agreement between the US and the EU, so this is just another one to add.

    In both cases, there might have to be um-ing and ah-ing about how some other Agreement would have been acceptable, but regrettably not the only one on offer. So what, though? The effect would be exactly the same.

    We are told that the only alternative to this approach, an approach which old hippies actively prefer, is sucking up to the Dalai Lama.


    The present Dalai Lama was born hundreds of miles outside Tibet. The Tibetans themselves migrated to what is now Tibet from further east in China, but huge numbers of them never did and never have done. The Dalai Lama comes from one such family.

    Before 1959, Tibet was not an independent state ruled benignly by the Dalai Lama and given over almost entirely to the pursuit of spirituality. Tibet was certainly ruled by the Dalai Lama, by the lamas generally, and by the feudal landlord class from which the lamas were drawn. “Dalai” is a family name; only a member of the House of Dalai can become the Dalai Lama.

    Well over 90 per cent of the population was made up of serfs, the background from which the present rulers of Tibet are drawn. That system was unique in China, and existed only because successive Emperors of China had granted the Tibetan ruling clique exactly the “autonomy” for which it still campaigns from “exile”. Life expectancy in Tibet was half what it is today.

    There has never been an independent state of Tibet. Likewise, the presence of large numbers of Han (ethnic Chinese in the ordinary sense) and other Chinese ethnic groups in Tibet is nothing remotely new. The one-child policy does not apply in Tibet, so the Han majority there is the ethnic Tibetans’ own fault, if they even see it as a problem.

    It is totally false to describe the Dalai Lama baldly as “their spiritual leader”. Relatively few would view him as such. In particular, Google “Dorje Shugden” for, to put at its mildest, some balance to the media portrayal of the present Dalai Lama.

    Moreover, he has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq. For more on Buddhism as no more a religion of peace than Islam is, see Sri Lanka, Burma, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, and beyond.

    In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism, admittedly a difficult thing to define, in the way that they are to Islam and at least arguably to Judaism, but simply are not, as a first principle, to Christianity.

    Tibet is particularly striking for this. It is also more than worth noting that the Sri Lankan war criminals were among those on whose behalf Liam Fox was treasonably running a parallel foreign policy out of his office and via his fake charity.

    Just as pre-Communist Russia always remained the country’s true character, so very pre-Communist China remains the country’s true character.

    That character reveres tradition and ritual, upholds government by moral rather than physical force, affirms the Golden Rule, is Agrarian and Distributist, is now thoroughly Classical and Patristic in taking Africa seriously, and has barely started an external war since China became China five thousand years ago. It is especially open to completion by, in, through and as classical, historic, mainstream Christianity.

    China has already moved from Maoism to the equal repressiveness of unbridled capitalism. While economic, or any other, dependence on a foreign power remains totally unacceptable, a further shift, the reassertion of her own culture, is to be encouraged by every means of “soft” power. Which, in reality, is truly hard power.

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