The arrival of China’s President Xi Jinping in the UK for a four-day visit raises questions about the potential motives behind a closer relationship between the two nations.
Earlier this year, UK Chancellor George Osborne made a trip to China under the banner of strengthening ties with one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Furthermore, the UK became the first western power to support the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Now, President Xi is scheduled to have dinner at Buckingham Palace, address members of the Houses of Parliament, meet with businesses, dine at Chequers with Mr and Mrs Cameron, and visit Manchester City football stadium.
The visit coincides with a number of global issues in which China is central to, particularly with the United States of America following China’s continued dredging of waters in the South China sea.
While President Xi is being hosted by the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, the U.S. Navy has made it known it intends to sail within 12 miles of the artificially created islands, and confront China’s claim to the area of sea in which it is currently expanding its territory.
This raises the question: what is the status of the “special relationship” between the USA and the UK?
The circumstances cannot be considered coincidental. The USA, along with 11 other nations, making up 40% of the global economy, are to release the text of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal next month.
Some of the most controversial pieces of the deal include corporations’ ability to sue government’s who harm revenues, through nationalisation or market manipulation.
There are further concerns: labour being moved from the USA to countries in which wages are much lower, provisions over pharmaceuticals and currency manipulation by businesses.
Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both currently running for Democrat nominee for President, have already stated their opposition to the Bill, which will far outstrip the current NAFTA arrangement between the USA, Canada and Mexico.
Nevertheless, many support the new agreement. The Chicago Tribune notes how many links the USA has with Asia. To name but a few: Toyota (a Japanese company) has its cars assembled in Indiana; Illinois soybeans are exported to Taiwan; and iPhones, designed in California, are made in China.
However, the 11 nations do not include China, which simply highlights the current strained relations between the two countries. Not only that, but the inclusion of Vietnam in the deal, whose largest trader is China (and ties are expected to get closer in the next decade), shows how the USA may be moving to isolate China from its partners.
Some speculate the omission of China from the trade deal opens the door for Europe to strengthen ties with China, and that is exactly what the UK is doing.
Part of Xi’s visit includes finalising a nuclear deal with the UK regarding the building of two state-owned Chinese utilities to invest in a £16 billion nuclear power project built by French utility EdF at Hinkley Point in the southwest of England.
Furthermore, with Britain leading the way in its involvement in AIIB other EU-connected countries have followed suit: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey.
For now, the “special relationship” appears in tact, but Cameron’s claim the visit from President Xi marks a “golden era” in the two nations’ relationship may put strain on that. Supporting a country whose current movements at home are frustrating tensions with the USA, the UK is playing a risky game in its global ties.
Of course, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is still on the cards, perhaps allowing relations to remain tight between Europe and America. The talks between the UK and China are worth watching, and the body language may signal the potentially “close” relationship that may yet come.