Before becoming the UK new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson already referred to his government as very “pro-China.” Now that he entered Downing Street on Wednesday, he welcomes Chinese investment and students to the “most open economy in Europe”
On Wednesday, July 24, at the Buckingham Palace the conservative leader, Boris Johnson, was officially named Prime Minister of the United Kingdom by Queen Elizabeth II. Because of his conservative policy and maybe his hairstyle, the new Prime Minister has been called the “British Trump”. But evidence suggests he could not be more different.
While the US and China are engaged in an exhausting trade war, Boris Johnson said his government would be very “pro-China” in an interview with a Hong Kong-based broadcaster shortly before he was chosen to succeed Theresa May on Tuesday.
“We’re interested in what President Xi is doing and don’t forget that the UK was the first country to sign up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, so we are very pro-China,” he said during the interview, showing enthusiasm for Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investment project.
© Unsplash. China town, London, UK. With $ 53 billion in imports and over $ 20 billion in exports in 2016, UK is the 4th largest import partner and the 8th largest export partner of China.
Although the conversation with Johnson by Hong Kong Chinese-language television network Phoenix Television broadcast for the first time on Tuesday, it actually took place when he was the UK’s foreign secretary in January 2018. During the interview, not only Johnson effusively praised China and its leader but he also celebrated the Dragon’s investment in the United Kingdom. The then-foreign secretary even said his daughter was learning Mandarin in China because “learning Chinese is very important” and he referred to Chinese students, underlining their “great contribution” to British society.
Nevertheless, while Trump shows to like the comparison with Johnson, even calling him “a friend,” the new-elected UK Prime Minister is not new in showing his appreciation for the PRC and its ambitious projects.
Johnson has always been an advocate of free trade with the Middle Kingdom and a large part of his Brexit campaign has focused on the possible deals with other parts of the world once the UK had left the EU.
“Free trade would bring greater prosperity in both Britain and China and we should embrace it,” Boris Johnson said on a trip to Hong Kong and China in 2013. “It would mean better access for British projects to Chinese markets, access that would bring huge benefits to London’s economy, creating jobs and growth.”
Moreover, when he was London’s Mayor, Johnson often used the mayoral Twitter account to announce new deals with China or Chinese businessmen. And last but not least, he also tried to cement his shining image in China by referencing the most-famous of British exports, Harry Potter, while on his 2013 visit.
“Who, according to JK Rowling, was Harry Potter’s first girlfriend? Who is the first person he kisses? That’s right, Cho Chang, who is a Chinese overseas student at Hogwarts school,” Johnson said, according to the Guardian.
But who is this pro-China “British Trump”? Boris Johnson is a major defender of Brexit, former Foreign Minister, he also served two terms as the Mayor of London from 2008 and 2018. Born in New York from a British family, he renounced to US citizenship in 2016.
During the HK interview, he revealed his daughter was studying Mandarin in China, but he seems not to be the only one in his family willing to strengthen ties with the PRC. His brother, Max Johnson, studied at Tsinghua University and currently works for Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong, according to his LinkedIn profile.
© Twitter. On his visit to Hong Kong, Johnson said that China and HK were examples of the importance of major spending on aviation as the “absolutely key to economic growth.”
After his appointment as head of the new government on Wednesday, Johnson delivered a speech in which he stressed that Britain will complete the Brexit process by October 31 and asked citizens to think about leaving the EU as an opportunity for the UK.
Then he also defined the British economy as “the most open in Europe” to Chinese investments, citing, for instance, the participation of Beijing companies in the Hinkley big nuclear power plant.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang congratulated Boris Johnson on his new office. The Chinese press revealed that in its congratulatory message, Li said that China-UK relations have maintained a good momentum of growth in general in recent years, and the two sides have kept frequent high-level exchanges, achieving fruitful results in cooperation on many sectors.
“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of its relations with Britain,” Li said, adding that on the basis of mutual respect and equality, he is willing to work together with Johnson to deepen political mutual trust, expand pragmatic cooperation in various fields, hold stable the steering wheel of the China-Britain relationship in its “Golden Era,” and make contributions to safeguarding multilateralism and free trade as well as building an open world economy.
Since 1999, trade and investments between China and the UK have increased steadily. In the last few years, the diplomatic relations between London and Beijing have intensified so much so that the time that goes from 2015 – when President Xi Jinping visited the British capital – has been defined the “Golden Era” of the relationship whose trade reached a record $89 billion in 2017, a 15% increase from 2016.
Britain’s exit from Europe is a matter of importance for the Middle Kingdom, especially for Chinese companies as the UK has always been one of the principal beneficiaries of Chinese investment in the Community. In fact, from 2006 to 2016, the PRC invested more than $114 billion in Europe, whose $26 billion were addressed to the British market, compared to the “only” $20 billion addressed to Germany.
PRC investors always looked at London as their “gateway” to Europe where they have established and expanded their businesses benefiting from the EU favorable regulatory environment. Now the bridge is no longer there and the Chinese will need to record new deals with the country as a completely new partner.
Therefore, although the British vote to exit the EU has made the country lose its attractiveness as a gateway for Chinese investors, the Brexit deal might put the Dragon in the position to negotiate an advantageous bilateral trade agreement with London.
© Independent. April 2017 saw the official inauguration of the railway line that connects London to Yiwu in 17 days time, beating deadlines and budgets on both sides.
Boris Johnson has pledged to make UK exit EU by October 31, but the departure could be painful for the British economy if he can’t negotiate an agreement that preserves close economic ties with the EU or a favorable parallel trade deal with the United States. Therefore, in addition to reaffirming the historic privileged relationship with the United States, Johnson now aims to forge a deeper bond with Beijing, even though President Trump’s administration has warned European allies to avoid such deals.
On the other hand, the Sino-British bond has been consolidated for some time now, considering that Britain was the first Western country to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank – the first Asia-based international bank to be independent of the Western-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund – becoming also one of the founding members.
The question now is, despite he might keep his privileged relationship with the White House, how will Boris Johnson deal with the delicate issue of Huawei? London will have to decide whether to apply restrictions or even ban the Chinese telecommunications giant in the 5G development process or to give the green light to a collaboration that is creating concerns overseas.
At the moment, Washington and Beijing have reached a truce, but the UK’s new Prime Minister now has no choice except picking sides.
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