The country's leaders think the UK is quaint, broke and insignificant.by Isabel Hilton / April 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Britain’s eagerness to please Beijing reached new heights over the government’s race to be the first to announce that it would join China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite Washington’s undisguised disapproval. Joining the bank is sensible, the United States’s objections notwithstanding; the panting enthusiasm was embarrassing at home, but occasioned some amusement in Beijing.
When David Cameron visited China in 2013, the Global Times, the Communist Party mouthpiece, seized the moment to let him know how Beijing views the United Kingdom. “The Cameron administration should acknowledge that the UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese,” the paper mused. “We’ve discovered that Britain is easily replaceable in China’s European foreign policy. Moreover, Britain is no longer any kind of ‘big country,’ but merely a country of old Europe suitable for tourism and overseas study, with a few decent football teams.” It could hardly have been put more plainly.
China’s view of Britain as quaint, broke and insignificant is not new, but it has gained in strength as China’s economy has grown and Britain’s has flagged. Beijing concentrates its foreign policy on what matters most to China: its immediate neighbours, including Japan; the European Union, with particular stress on Germany; and the United States, against whom the Chinese measure their rise. They are reluctant to be the world’s number two, but unwilling to assume the responsibilities that go with superpower status.