Britain can’t afford to come over all Sinophobic now – we’re in recession, in the middle of a pandemic

There are still people out there who think the Chinese invented coronavirus and then unleashed it on the west in another bid for world domination. The paranoia – but nothing else – is real

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 15 July 2020 13:43
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UK government bans Huawei from UK's 5G network in major U-turn

It takes a special kind of talent to engineer an economic war with China at the same time as we are leaving the EU single market – and to do so right in the middle of a pandemic and the sharpest recession in 300 years.

Far from being some beacon of global free trade, Britain will soon have no such free trade agreements with any of its largest (actual or potential) economic partners – Europe, America, Japan, India – or, now, China.

Allowing for exchange rate distortions, China is the biggest economy on the planet and Britain is an open economy that makes its living from trade. This is really no time for the UK to come over all Sinophobic.

The barely concealed anger of the Chinese authorities confirms that the ban on Huawei will have consequences. That much is predictable, and it will not be good news for Britain. From electric vehicle technology, to the City, to nuclear power, as well as the 5G network, Chinese investment has been hugely beneficial, mutually so. Now the Chinese feel they cannot trust the British. Why would any country’s companies now commit billions in investment to Britain when plans and assumptions can be torn up so casually?

The Japanese, whose efforts (in money and expertise) helped to transform so much of British manufacturing, were predicated on EU membership – have still not recovered from the shock of Brexit. Now it is the turn of the Chinese to feel let down.

We are told that Britain cannot trust Huawei, controlled as it is by its government and thus the Chinese Communist Party. China is increasingly called a “hostile power” with malign intentions towards Britain. Where is the evidence for this? Where, exactly, do our interests conflict? Are the Chinese plotting to invade Britain?

More to the point, is it true that using Huawei software or hardware or “non core” component actually compromises personal data or national security? How? Where’s the evidence for that? What are the mechanisms whereby the Chinese spies can snoop on us? No one has yet published any kind of dossier, dodgy or otherwise, on China’s supposed methods of future mass espionage.

Could it be, perhaps, that parts of the Conservative Party have been seized by an attack of Sinophobia? The government has been panicked by a potential defeat at the hands of rebel backbenchers – mostly Eurosceptics, now virally mutating into Sinosceptics.

The paranoia – but nothing else – is real. It is strongly reminiscent of previous episodes of Sinophobia, such as the late-Victorian panic about supposed Chinese-run opium dens and a sinister slave trade in the East End of London. The usual racial stereotypes and slurs about untrustworthy Chinese seem to be emerging once again, this time directed against a company that happens to make phones.

There are still people out there who really do think the Chinese invented the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 in a lab in Wuhan and then unleashed it on the west in another bid for world domination. Some of those people are in the White House, and call it “kung flu”. Some are Tory MPs.

It is certainly true that the People’s Republic of China is no paradise for human rights. Britain has to try and stand up for Hong Kong, legally and morally – and, for that matter, the Uighur Muslims, the Tibetans and anyone across the People’s Republic who is persecuted.

Yes, China is a known routine abuser of human rights, but will banning Huawei in Britain actually make matters better or worse? It could conceivably make things even more difficult for the people of Hong Kong, so rapid has the relationship between the UK and China deteriorated. Militarily there is nothing that can be done by the British to protect the people of Hong Kong, and, in fact, even when it was still part of the British empire. The British were fortunate that the Red Guards or People’s Liberation Army never walked in and reclaimed it during that period.

Comically, the navy is to send an aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth to the South China Sea, to show Beijing we mean business: gunboat diplomacy. Maybe the Chinese secret service will be able to find out whether there are yet any aircraft on our aircraft carrier?

It is not obvious, at any rate, that chucking Huawei out of the plan for Britain’s 5G roll out will make the Chinese politburo relent over Hong Kong’s repressive new laws; that we know.

The truth is that there is a superpower rivalry between America and China and Britain is caught in the crossfire. We are being bullied, not by the Chinese but by the Americans, to take sides in their tech-trade war with Beijing, even thought this is not in the British national interest.

A bunch of unbalanced Tory backbenchers are pushing our government around. We are going to have mobile phone outages, weak and outdated telecoms, and lower national productivity, just to please Donald Trump – who himself might be gone in a few months.

I wonder what Britain’s reward will be? We’ve not heard anything yet, but then again the signal strength is poor.

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