Acting as faithful follower of American foreign policy has always carried risks as well as rewards.
The UK Government would do well to remember that historic truth before digging itself deeper into hostilities with China, in line with the current American way.
There was no shortage of reasons offered for pulling the plug on Huawei in the UK – security initially topped the bill followed by Hong Kong and alleged human rights violations against the Uyghurs.
None of these is new and the general rule of international trade is that noses must be held if the show is to go on. Diplomacy rather than trade is the avenue for influencing errant states.
Ethical foreign policy is a noble concept but endlessly difficult to pursue consistently – which is why it makes sense to separate it from trade, except in extreme circumstances.
The contention that these exist would have been more convincing if President Trump had not promptly informed the world that the UK ditched Huawei because he told them to, which is probably the truth of the matter.
One of the problems with pleading high-mindedness is that once started, there is no logical point to stop. If China is so awful, do we really want their students? Do we want them to control 25 per cent of the North Sea? Do we want them funding our infrastructure?
It is not as if China lacks options. They also have a fair grasp of their own history which does not necessarily predispose them to regard the UK as a font of virtue and righteousness, entitled to lecture them on how to conduct their affairs.
Presumably someone in Whitehall has noticed that Beijing is hoovering up “soft power” around the world with its astonishing Silk Road intiative which involves trillions of investment in scores of countries.
The Silk Road is not a geographically limiting term but flows from the concept of China as the world’s first global trader, regardless of oceans and borders. Via the Silk Road, it is seeking to regain that status from Africa to Latin America. Do they really need the UK that much?
A bellicose trade war with China in election year may be just what President Trump needs. It is less clear, as we walk away from the EU and reel from the Covid-19 aftermath, that it is what the UK needs.
And what of the United States on which we seem to be placing all available bets? It should not go unnoticed that, in the real world, our great ally across the water is currently waging a trade war against us – not for us.
Though we are outside the EU, Washington continues to behave as if we are inside for the purpose of sanctions arising from the Airbus dispute. The World Trade Organisation authorised punitive US tariffs on random products in retaliation for illegal subsidies paid by Brussels.
Products targeted for prohibitive tariffs already include malt whisky, cashmere knitwear and shortbread. There is suspicion this selection reflects Trump’s animus towards Scotland in light of the great fall-out which followed the great love-in. I know from personal experience – remember the Banana Wars? – that none of these things happen by accident.
Matters may be about to get much worse. By 12 August, the US will decide on an extension of the list which may include blended whisky and gin. Not everybody knows this, but 80 per cent of UK gin is now made in Scotland. If this happens, it is reckoned that 6,500 jobs are at risk.
It is surely time for the UK Government to call in whatever chips it holds in Washington to point out it’s not a good look to be attacked by your greatest ally at the same time as turning your back on past friends (the EU) and valuable partners (China).
Conversely, sorting this one out would be a decent advert – not least in Scotland – for “taking back control”. Failure to do so by 12 August will reinforce the alternative thought that with Trump as your best friend in the world, who needs enemies?
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