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          UK seems to retreat from 'Global Britain'

          By Richard Cullen | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-02-10 09:09
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          Certain opinion leaders in "Global Britain" seem to be having yet another serious anxiety attack over China. Recently, three letters appeared adjacent to one another in The Times.

          All were clearly written, but it felt like a relay-team effort, given that, as a trio, they offered measurably interlaced, fulsome praise for a report in The Times (from two days earlier) that darkly explained how "Universities (in the UK) have 'risky' links to China".

          One of the three, at about the same time, published a remarkably hair-raising, China-focused article in The Telegraph arguing that "China can use people's fridges and laptops to spy on them".

          Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal recently quoted one leading House of Commons member of Parliament arguing that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should "warn the Chinese government" that "the use of common law in Hong Kong will be taken away". How this extraordinary punishment would be applied was not explained.

          Last year (long after the post-insurrection, political structural reforms had been introduced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region), the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association issued an invitation to Hong Kong Legislative Council members to attend a Westminster seminar on effective parliaments in March this year. Very recently, however, this invitation was rather abruptly withdrawn by the CPA-UK.

          This is all rather stirring stuff, and an important part of the solution favored by those most feverishly concerned is to wind up many general — and especially scientific — drawbridges to cut Britain off from all this tricky supposed spying and undermining (though not cutting if off from the annual flow, which has reached more than 150,000, of Chinese fee-paying students). These developments bring to mind an article in The Guardian in 2013 by John Crace, who argued that the term "little Englander" had "become a byword for small-minded bigotry".

          But let's consider a less febrile perspective.

          Hank Paulson, former US treasury secretary, observed in a recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine that China "has more than tripled the size of its economy since 2008".In an interview with Ezra Klein of The New York Times, Professor Yuen Yuen Ang of Johns Hopkins University in the US argued that the most "dominant political emotion" prompted by the rise of China was "envy".

          She also stressed how China possesses manufacturing prowess and that "they are just doing things and making things happen." This is surely what has most galvanized the latest rash of British Sino-thumping: China has simply become much too successful in energizing its own extraordinary uplift.

          Consider some more specific aspects of that rise. In August last year, Nikkei Asia reported that China tops the US in quantity and quality of scientific papers. At about the same time, The Guardian, relying on a Japanese ministerial report, said that "China has overtaken the US as the world leader in both scientific research output and "high impact' studies". Meanwhile, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, released in October, saw US research preeminence weaken as Chinese universities continued to rise, "producing a greater quantity and higher quality of research than ever before", according to The Wall Street Journal.

          There are so many aspects of life where scientific research is pivotally important. One area of existential concern is climate change. China's extraordinary manufacturing competence in building solution components — including wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles — is both unmatchable and indispensable. Behind all of this creation of globally needed, practical answers lies an immense amount of research.

          Cutting Britain off from much of this growing, dynamic, highly relevant research is, ultimately, what The Times and others want to secure in order to placate their own self-incubated, politically disturbed, national security concerns.

          Of course, Chinese universities are massively focused on how to improve the scientific work they do and, thus, to support the betterment of the nation. But this is precisely what leading universities in the West, not least in the US and the UK, have done successfully for a very long time and, in doing so, a remarkable number have achieved the highest possible standing.

          Once upon a time, collective Sino-British scientific striving was immensely valued in both countries. The late Professor Joseph Needham of Cambridge University was an exemplar for decades in this regard. His joint work, including the extraordinary multivolume Science and Civilization in China (initiated in 1948 and still being written and published today), saw him elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941 and a fellow of the British Academy in 1971, and honored by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992.

          That was then. Now there is a strident Sinophobic perspective favored by a range of activists that has helped create a negative mood currently shaping far too much British thinking. It is hard to imagine that Needham, starting off today, would enjoy anything like the animating academic freedom that used to prevail even a decade or two ago in the UK.

          Overcooked local fears, shaped by the US-led security establishment, now overshadow British interaction with China on too many levels. There is scant signaling here of how Britain is stretching its newfound, post-EU global legs. What we see looks measurably more like an apprehensive, insular spiral back toward a "Little England" world view.

          The author is an adjunct professor on Hong Kong University's faculty of law.

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