China and Russia should at best see Britain as a sad joke
21 Feb 2022 8:15 am
No wonder Beijing and Moscow are irritated by Britain. The country overestimates its own importance as a result of post-Brexit foreign policy. Brexit Britain has become a farce of itself. The country doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously on the international stage.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss visited Moscow last week to discuss the situation in Ukraine with Russia. She appeared with her usual warlike and threatening attitude. It has been a trait of her demeanor since Truss took office, leading to her being likened to a cheap version of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to Truss’s aggressive and uncompromising stance by publicly ridiculing her during the press conference. He described the meeting with her as a conversation “with a deaf person”. He also put her on the slippery slope, where Truss slipped by mistaking Russia’s Voronezh and Rostov regions for regions of Ukraine and saying Britain “will never recognize Russian sovereignty over those regions.” That disastrous meeting in Moscow has at least dampened some talk of her ambition to become prime minister.
At the same time that Truss was dropping feathers in Russia, pressured Prime Minister Boris Johnson was angering Conservative MPs in London. Because it had been reported that he wanted to resume trade talks with China. The move provoked angry reactions from the usual suspects in the Conservative Party, Tom Tugendhat and Iain Duncan Smith, who have long called for a tougher stance on Beijing.
Iain Duncan Smith has been particularly aggressive in his attempts to undermine the government. While Boris Johnson’s move has long been on the horizon, the Prime Minister represents one of the more dovish voices on China. And this in a country that is committed to a strategic fight against China in every respect – such as the efforts of the BBC show how to shape public opinion.
What ties these two episodes to Johnson and Truss is that they illustrate how Britain has become a sad joke on the world stage. Brexit has led the British polity to reformulate itself as “Global Britain”. Believing it is still a great power, the UK pursues a foreign policy that shows a lack of balance and realism about its actual realities, revealing a multitude of contradictions.
Arguably nobody embodies that spirit more than Liz Truss. While she’s on the front line blowing halali as the UK attempts to snarl at Moscow, right-wing MPs are simultaneously greedy for a confrontation with Beijing. And all this amid an attempt to offset the impact of a Brexit that hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped.
As I have mentioned before, Brexit represents the culmination of seventy years of confusion about Britain’s post-war identity and place in the world. The dilemma of coming to terms with a failing empire and where your place on the global stage actually is. Is Britain part of Europe? Or is it a unique power working hand in hand with other Anglophone countries like the US?
Over the decades, this question has been like a pendulum, swinging here and there. But then numerous factors led to Brexit, which subsequently redefined the rules of the game for domestic and foreign policy. Brexit ended an era of Conservatives as the center liberal party under David Cameron, and a shift towards populism and nationalism with Boris Johnson at the helm. This in turn fueled the desire for prominence on the global stage. No politician’s career exemplifies this shift better than that of Truss herself. For this politician has transformed from an anti-Brexit conservative into a chest-pounding, nationalist crusader.
Johnson is a self-proclaimed “Sinophile”—someone who has sympathy for China. In response to the need for alternative markets, he initially advocated a pro-Chinese foreign policy after Brexit. But the pressure exerted by both the US and right-wing MPs in their search for a new opponent to replace the EU became untenable. A changing geopolitical context has made better relations with China impossible. The UK needs Beijing as a serious partner, but it has already shown which side the country is on with initiatives like AUKUS.
Given all of this, it is not surprising that Russia and China are less inclined to view Britain as credible. Beijing has long sought to develop closer economic ties with Britain. In the end, however, the Far East was surprised by the zeal that was expressed against it and the apparent steps taken to contain it. It speaks volumes that the journal political former Cabinet Secretary David Davis quoted as saying, Britain’s mission is to “make China behave in a civilized manner.” It is a statement that sends an offensive message to Beijing that the UK remains uncompromising, arrogant and unchanged. Just like when part of China was a British colony.
Given such a stance, it’s no wonder China is trying to counter the UK through a new strategic partnership with Argentina, and has reiterated its support for Buenos Aires’ claim to the Falkland Islands. This represents the fatalism in China’s thinking that simply asking Britain to change or cooperate is pointless. And the insight that the hostilities from London must be reacted to with more bite.
In Moscow, a similar opinion might be felt after Truss’ idea of talks seemed to be about issuing threats. The question arises as to whether diplomacy with Great Britain is worthwhile at all. And more importantly, is Britain really as relevant as it makes itself out to be? After all, Truss’ threats of sanctions will not determine any outcome regarding Ukraine, whatever happens.
In sum, we now see a British foreign policy that rides high on rhetoric with little substance, relies heavily on threats and little on solutions, and has seemingly completely abandoned any rational conception of what concerns the national interest. Brexit-Britain has become a farce of itself and it doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously on the international stage.