David Cameron’s return to government has been warmly welcomed by Chinese state media and is seen as an opportunity to “revive the relationship between China and Britain.”
An op-ed published by The Global Times on Tuesday highlighted Xi Jinping’s “highly successful” state visit to London in October 2015, when Cameron was prime minister.
It described the “dawn of a golden era of warm relations between China and Britain,” with relations, they say, partly disrupted “due to Washington’s malign influence.”
The article also warned of a ‘Chinese-phobic hard-right element within Britain’s ruling Tory party’ and pointed to inconsistent policies under Sunak, which had ‘deteriorated’ the relationship.
But with Cameron’s return as foreign secretary, the author claims that ‘it is fair to speculate whether warm relations will get back on track’.
David Cameron with Chinese President Xi Jinping at The Plow Inn at Cadsden in Princes Risborough, near Cameron’s country retreat in Checkers
David Cameron and Xi Jinping share a drink at The Plow in Cadsden, also known as ‘The Pub of Prime Ministers’ – located near Checkers
David Cameron (R) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a commercial contract exchange at the UK-China Business Summit at Mansion House, central London
David Cameron has returned to the front benches of government as foreign secretary for the first time since leaving office in 2016.
As prime minister, his premiership was defined by Britain’s decision to leave the EU, but he also saw significant twists in foreign policy, including interventions in Libya and Syria, and defense cuts.
The more abstract warming of relations with China was a major shift in foreign policy, marked by Xi’s visit to London in 2015 and similarly responded to when Cameron visited Beijing in 2017.
It was hoped at the time, the new ‘golden age’ would make China Britain’s second largest trading partner within a decade.
However, according to The Global Times, the plans were summarily scuppered, partly due to Washington’s ‘malign’ influence and partly due to a ‘Sino-phobic hard-right element’ in the Tory party.
“They view any involvement with China as a sign of weakness, or even betrayal,” the article suggests.
It also notes Rishi Sunak’s historical reservations about China; the Prime Minister’s first major foreign policy speech After all, in November 2022 was used to herald the end of the ‘golden era’ that had been built under Cameron.
Sunak called China a “systematic challenge to our values and interests” and repeated his July 2022 campaign claim that China “is our greatest threat‘.
The Global Times pointed out at the time that Sunak promised to close all thirty Confucius Institutes in Britainciting the ‘promotion of Chinese soft power’ in British universities.
“This was later quietly dropped,” The Global Times notes.
Tensions eased somewhat early this month with the controversial decision to invite China to the UK AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park, which was set up as the first global meeting to discuss the potential and risks of the latest artificial intelligence.
The decision angered certain factions within the Conservative Party, including former Prime Minister Liz Truss, who said she was “deeply concerned” that representatives of the Chinese Communist Party had been asked to attend.
“Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has so often and so quickly oscillated between a pragmatic engagement with Beijing and the demonization of Beijing, creating uncertainty about his position,” the author concludes.
Others within the party have seen more room to work with China. The Global Times suggests in its article that Cameron’s predecessor as foreign secretary, James Cleverly, “laid the foundations for an improved relationship during a visit to China in August.”
“Although his approach was clumsy and at times contradictory, it was a cautious first step toward thawing the icy diplomatic atmosphere between the two countries and developing a productive understanding,” the article claims.
‘He spoke about the need for a constructive relationship. This is a path that will certainly antagonize Washington as Britain pursues cooperation with China.”
David Cameron treats Xi Jinping to Fish and Chips, October 22, 2015 in Princes Risborough
Xi Jinping stops for fish and chips with David Cameron at a Buckinghamshire pub in 2015
Xi Jinping meets Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and David Cameron during his trip to Britain in October 2015, billed as the ‘dawn of a golden age’ of relations
Next, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn (R) meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at Buckingham Place in London on October 20, 2015, on the first official day of a state visit
Relations between the United States and China remain frosty, with the conflict between Israel and Hamas becoming the latest challenge for officials on either side of the North Pacific.
While Chinese diplomats have claimed to be neutral in the conflict, official state media outlets have portrayed the United States as a warmonger, supporting Israel’s devastating bombardment of the Gaza Strip and speaking less about Hamas’s incursion into Israel.
In June, China introduced a new educational app for its journalists with tutorials entitled ‘make sure the politicians manage the papers…’. Another talked about how to “properly guide public opinion.”
China jails more journalists than any other country and monitors the profession, with strict tests for “political correctness and loyalty to China’s rulers.”
A new exam system, introduced earlier this year, now promises to reject trainees who, in the eyes of the state, have a history of “unhealthy news gathering and editing practices” – and requires journalists to retake their exams every five years.