The Prime minister of Britain Boris Johnson said in 2016 that if the UK voted to leave the European Union, its government would be started trade and business with other countries. When China is facing a series of problems like interfering with Hong Kong’s local affairs and poor control in preventing the outspread of coronavirus globally, Britain plans to reduce its cooperation with China. Sad as it seems, the decision is more likely to put on China’s hand.
Johnson claimed his government would be pro-China when he had just become prime minister of Britain. He had changed his mind in the US-China trade war as the country was forced to choose a side. The choice is obvious based on the economy. In 2018, £201.6 billion ($255 billion) worth of goods were traded between the U.S. and Britain, while trade with China was worth £68.3 billion. With the U.S. being its top trade partner, it was no wonder that Johnson would choose to stand with the U.S.
Then, it comes to the construction of 5G network with the help of Huawei. Britain used to resume the 5G project with the Chinese tech company in January despite strong lobbying by American officials. Britain realized how terrible it could be if its 5G network is totally dependent on Chinese companies only after the coronavirus pandemic came. The pandemic indicated the world was highly relying on China’s factories that take at least 85% of the world production rate in face masks. China additionally makes use of its economic power as a political bargaining chip. China slapped tariffs on Australia’s barley and stopped buying meat from them after Australia asked about the origin of the virus.
Therefore, Johnson pans to completely cut Huawei out in the UK’s 5G network by 2023. The government is trying to accelerate a bill that would tighten controls over Chinese corporate takeovers. Considering the implementation of a new security law in Hong Kong, Britain decided to provide a pathway to citizenship for over 3 million eligible Hong Kong citizens.
The move unfortunately might not benefit Britain, particularly in the economic uncertainty. The UK was the second-largest recipient of Chinese FDI by volume last year. China is the world’s largest consumer market while the middle class in China is expected to grow to 550 million people by 2022 stated by McKinsey. The trade made with China is hard to fill. Even though the U.K starts the cooperation with India being the Commonwealth’s largest economy now, it requires a long time to fill up the capacity as their relationship has stopped in the past. Chinese investors also hesitate in investing in Britain due to the recent developments in the UK-China relationship, according to Peter Lu an expert in mergers & acquisitions who leads Baker McKenzie’s China practice in London. When the economy gets worse, Britain might not be the one to choose but the one waiting to be chosen.