AS SOMEONE who lived through the first cold war against the Soviet Union and its allies, and who was in some important respects politically shaped by it—including in terms of my decades-long opposition to nuclear weapons—I recognise all too well the depressing signs of a new cold war against China, being fomented by the U.S., Britain and a handful of other countries.
Here in Britain, we’ve seen:
- A thriving relationship with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei scuppered at U.S. insistence, leaving 5G infrastructure to be ripped out of our networks, increasing costs to the Treasury and leaving us in the broadband slow lane.
- A ban on the massively popular TikTok app on government devices.
- Attacks and threats to close Confucius Institutes, which play an invaluable role in lessening our educational deficit in the teaching of Chinese language and culture.
- Sanctions and refusal of investment from Chinese companies on dubious national security grounds, costing us jobs, markets and technical upskilling.
- A ban on the Chinese ambassador setting foot in the Palace of Westminster, instigated by a vociferous gang of right-wingers like Iain Duncan Smith.
Not surprisingly, all this, along with the attempts to blame China for the Covid pandemic from Donald Trump and his allies internationally, has led to an upsurge in racist attacks on members of Chinese and Asian communities.
Last year’s Conservative Party leadership contest became an unedifying race to the bottom, to which Rishi Sunak was dragged by Liz Truss. Had she not been ignominiously booted out of office in record time, Truss was set to formally declare China as an enemy of our country. For now, Sunak claims that China “is a country with fundamentally different values to ours and it represents a challenge to the world order.”
The rise of China is one of the greatest events in world history in my lifetime. When I was born, life expectancy in China was under 40. Around 90 per cent of the population was illiterate. The country had been torn apart by a century of foreign aggression, invasion, warlordism and civil wars. Millions died every year from floods and famine.
What a contrast to today’s China, which is on the cusp of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s greatest economy—a change unseen in over a century. China’s life expectancy has already overtaken that of the U.S.
Going on World Bank figures, China has lifted some 800 million people out of poverty.
This economic transformation is one that all decent people should welcome.
The present new cold war against China stands in stark contrast to the situation just a few years ago. With the 2015 state visit of President Xi Jinping, PM David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne declared that our relations had entered a “golden era.” Today, to even remotely echo their words is regarded as practically treasonous.
Twenty years ago, when I was elected London mayor in 2000, I was determined that London would develop positive relations with China. Whether as the world’s leading financial centre or as home to Europe’s largest Chinese community, this was a necessary and natural course of action for me.
Visiting China, it was clear that our counterparts there were equally invested in a thriving and mutually beneficial relationship. Of course, my policies were slated in the Tory press, but we pressed on.
We opened offices for London in Beijing and Shanghai, encouraged Stock Exchange listings, brought the annual celebration of Chinese New Year to Trafalgar Square, and expanded co-operation in a whole range of sectors, such as fashion, design and the creative industries.
The Daily Mail may not have liked it, but we were supported from the boardrooms of the City to the restaurants of Chinatown, and it brought benefits to every Londoner.
These are the policies that are needed today. Policies for peace and prosperity. Policies that were broadly supported by the most diverse range of Labour leaders, from Tony Blair through Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband to Jeremy Corbyn.
Sadly, they now find little or no echo from Keir Starmer and his shadow foreign secretary David Lammy. Their political horizons seem confined to attempting to outdo the Tories as to who can be the most bellicose cold warrior.
It is this new establishment political consensus that is leading to reckless adventures like the Aukus deal we have joined with Australia and the U.S.
This agreement, which will see Australia equipped with nuclear-powered submarines, will cost billions, flouts the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and heightens the danger of a catastrophic war with China, a nuclear power.
All this at a time when we face a cost-of-living crisis where an increasing number of people aren’t being forced to choose between heating and eating because they can’t afford either.
Where nurses and primary school teachers are among key workers increasingly reliant on food banks, which in turn are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the ever-growing demands placed on them.
Yet the government is committed to a massive increase in military spending levels that are already amongst the highest in the world.
And it is simply an obscene farce that, in this situation of huge economic difficulties, we should turn our backs on the huge opportunities offered by the Chinese market, in favour of squandering immense sums on nuclear arms, as part of stoking a potential conflict that would kill millions, would be utterly unnecessary, and which we couldn’t possibly win.
A cold war with China is against the interests of the British people, as is a new nuclear arms proliferation.
Progressives in the labour movement need to stand against them—and build the broadest possible alliance to reverse the slide to disaster.