Ban on Chinese students will be another act of crazy self-harm by Britain on its anti-Beijing crusade
Spurred on by America, the UK continues to alienate China with a ban on some students now reportedly planned. Post-Brexit, it should be trying to build bridges with Beijing, not burn them.
As Donald Trump’s administration piles pressure on a desperate United Kingdom to take a harder line against China, Boris Johnson, apparently a self-proclaimed ‘Sinophile,’ happily goes along with it.
Already in a dispute with the European Union, which is now taking legal action against his government’s open violation of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK seems perfectly content to burn its bridges with Beijing, another one of its largest trade and investment partners. Why? Because ‘Washington tells it to do so.’
Having banned Huawei from participating in the rollout of UK 5G networks after American arm-twisting and a tantrum from the right wing of the Conservative Party, Britain may now be about to ban hundreds of Chinese students from postgraduate scientific courses described as “sensitive,” over alleged fears of “technology theft” according to The Times.
This may go as far as revoking the visas of some students. And how is this so-called “security threat” set to be calibrated? Who knows? But the inward-looking, McCarthyite proposal seems far from the so-called “global Britain” the government preaches.
In every area, there is little question that Boris Johnson’s adventurist foreign policy is severely undermining the interests of the United Kingdom, be it with Brussels or Beijing. The decision to jump on the anti-China bandwagon is a short-term, reactionary product of the Covid-19 crisis and the government’s own incompetence in dealing with it, as well as bullying by the US.
How does it help Britain exactly? There is no clear answer, but it is likely to be definitive in alienating Chinese students and companies, as well as provoking retaliation from the world’s second-largest economy.
There are around 120,000 Chinese international students who study in the United Kingdom. It’s a destination they are fond of. Despite historical differences, British culture is popular among the Chinese and wields an immense degree of ‘soft-power.’
A study from the British Council states they contribute £2.55 billion to the economy annually. This is, of course, Brexit Britain, where the government has, on the whim of popular demand, made the decision to systematically alienate the country from its largest trading and investment partner.
This leaves the economy in a position of weakness, even without considering the serious problems brought about by Covid-19 and Downing Street’s less-than-adequate handling of the crisis.
You would think that in such a situation, the UK would be more open to China – not less – given that beggars can’t be choosers. And for a while, that was the strategy; Boris Johnson has expressed interest in the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed that China build the High Speed 2 Network from London to Birmingham, and initially resisted American pressure to ban Huawei.
It was quite obvious he knew where the economic opportunities lay and what was intrinsically good for Britain. As recently as February, he held a phone call with Xi Jinping and pledged to “strengthen cooperation,” but suddenly that seems like ancient history.
In the time since, the government has capitulated to a tidal wave of anti-China sentiment pinning blame on Beijing for Covid-19, a narrative they were happy to follow given the extent of their own failures (which far exceed Beijing’s).
As right-wing hawks in the Conservative Party were empowered, hostility from Washington increased 100- fold. The result? Boris the ‘Sinophile’ crumbled and caved into McCarthyite policies which have brought to an end the ‘golden age’ of Sino-British relations. It’s a U-turn, and an impulsive one at that. But the question is, who will pay the price?
It certainly won’t be China. Britain whipping up a hostile climate towards Chinese students will, as we are seeing in the US and Australia, deter them from studying here and the universities will suffer.
The broader suggestion that Chinese students represent a ‘security threat’ is not only steeped in paranoia, but it also, by default, encourages racist and discriminatory practices which poison public discourse and pose consequences for all Chinese people as a whole. Politicized Covid-19 blame games did not stop at the “Communist Party” but created a tidal wave of Sinophobia throughout the world.
As a result, one may call this path by the UK government a ‘reaction’ rather than a strategy. The US does not represent a serious alternative to the EU or China as a close economic partner, and a collision course with Beijing will certainly take its toll on Britain’s already moribund economy.
Boris knows what is in Britain’s best interests, yet he is allowing the pressure of others to undermine them. As we are also seeing now with his Covid-19 policies, it’s all a very contradictory, uneven and incoherent mess.
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