It appears that the British prime minister is failing to grasp the big picture. Boris Johnson seems unaware that his country is no longer a big power or that its global influence has waned since the UK-Sino declaration on the future status of Hong Kong was signed in 1984 by the ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher.
On her watch, Britain went to war with Argentina to reclaim British sovereignty over the faraway Falkland Islands and succeeded in freeing the British islanders from the invading forces.
Can Johnson succeed in fending off Spain’s claims to Gibraltar in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
Boris has a lot on his plate without worrying about the fate of the Rock or its population that fiercely holds on to its British identity. Britain’s economy is on its knees.
Although the British government is desperate to cement new trade deals in keeping with one of the country’s prime reasons for splitting away from the confines of Europe, rather than court the big economic hitters like China and Russia with respect to trade and investments, it treats them as enemies
“UK economy hit by worst contraction in 41 years” is a recent headline on the BBC website; and that does not take into account the probable economic damage the nation will incur if Downing Street and Brussels part company at December’s end in an atmosphere of mutual rancour.
Planet's second largest economy
Yet with Covid-19 cases on the rise, at last one major city under a total lockdown and the looming spectre of mass unemployment hovers over this green and pleasant land, the ebullient PM seizes the moment to raise his fist against the planet’s second largest economy China to defend the rights of Hongkongers.
“Britain is adrift without a bloc. That is going to be challenging, and a first example of this is Hong Kong,” said a former UN Deputy Secretary Mark Malloch Brown.
Like it or not, Hong Kong may have been afforded the special status of one country, two systems for 50 years but its chances of seceding from mainland China are practically nil.
This is a reality which young activists who flooded Hong Kong’s streets, official buildings and airport last year causing economic mayhem refuse to accept.
There is no incentive for Beijing to give up this financial powerhouse and the implementation of the unpopular new security law proves that the Chinese government will not be swayed by prolonged protests.
But instead of warning the territory’s youth that violent resistance to what they perceive as China’s encroachment on their liberties is akin to fighting windmills, Western nations, among them Britain, incite the population to carry on regardless risking not only lengthy prison terms but also more severe crackdowns — or, in the worst case scenario, Beijing’s shredding of its agreement with Britain which has never been so toothless.
Cementing new trade deals
Although the British government is desperate to cement new trade deals in keeping with one of the country’s prime reasons for splitting away from the confines of Europe, rather than court the big economic hitters like China and Russia with respect to trade and investments, it treats them as enemies.
Boris Johnson, once keen to expand Huawei’s role in its 5G networks has U-turned under pressure from Donald Trump and parliamentarians fearing that the private company is in the pocket of the Chinese government.
He has now agreed to remove all Huawei’s components from the networks by 2023 and to draw down the UK’s dependence on China in various sectors.
Worse, the PM has enraged the Chinese government with its invitation to three million residents of Hong Kong holding British National (Overseas) passports to relocate to Britain where they can avail themselves of a newly created path to British citizenship.
Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot and a major foreign power called upon Brits to migrate to its shores en masse.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK asserted that “all Chinese compatriots residing in Hong Kong are Chinese nationals” while warning that China strongly opposes such interference and “reserves the right to take corresponding measures”.
He did not specify what form those measures might take but it is not inconceivable that banning travel from Hong Kong to the UK could be restricted. And as for the hoped-for trade agreement that may attract virtual dust for decades to come.
Last year, China invested over US$8 billion in UK businesses besides mega investments in the real-estate market yet as crazy as this may sound Britain is drawing up plans to restrict such investments.
Boris has also failed to take into account the feelings of his own compatriots who largely voted out of the EU to cut down immigration.
Just imagine their reaction to the arrival of millions of Chinese adding an additional burden to the housing shortage, shrinking jobs market, not to mention the under-funded National Health Service.
Despite his near-death experience and sinking approval ratings, Boris remains upbeat and exudes enthusiasm that the future for Britain is bright.
If he can pull off trade deals with the EU and the US at favourable terms and works to conclude agreements with India, Australia, Canada, Japan and others, his optimism may be well-placed in the medium to long term.
He may pull a rabbit out of his hat at the nth-minute but given his inept handling of crises so far I won’t be holding my breath.
— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.