Putting Britain First: The Sino-UK ‘Golden Era’ with Theresa May Characteristics

Dr Winnie King, Teaching Fellow, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Dr Winnie King, Teaching Fellow, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

“The golden era of British-Chinese relations will continue,” Prime Minister Theresa May stated September 2nd on her way to the G20 in Hangzhou, China. Will it however, be the 24 carat of the days of Cameron and Osborne? Or have delays linked to Hinkley Point irrevocably tarnished the gleam of relations?

If President Xi Jinping’s statement during the G20 Summit is any indication, he is willing to ‘show patience,’ giving Mrs. May time to frame and launch her vision of British foreign policy and economic relations.

As one who seems to keeps her cards close to her chest, the question is what shape will this come in?

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What would Brexit mean for the UK’s conflict prevention and peace-building influence outside the EU?

GUSTAVE: Why do you want to be a lobby boy?

The elevator operator casts a sideways look. Zero searches for the honest answer – then finds it:

ZERO: Well, who wouldn’t – at the Grand Budapest, sir? It’s an institution.

GUSTAVE: (deeply impressed) Very good.

Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

One of the UK’s primary forms of power projection in the world is through its conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. But this power is largely projected through the amplifier of one or other multinational institution, and in particular the EU. Eva Bertram highlights that ‘full-scale peace-building efforts are nothing short of attempts at nation building; they seek to remake a state’s political institutions, security forces, and economic arrangements’. The UK simply does not have the resources required in order to achieve this bilaterally: in terms of aid spending, the UK’s global budget for 2016/17 is just over £4billion, while the EU gives over €50billion per year in aid.

Brexit would have a negative impact on both the UK’s soft power and its hard power. Hard power is, broadly, the ability to coerce via economic or military means. Soft power is the power to impel others to do something without using force or coercion. The UK has for a long time punched well above its weight internationally owing to its post-colonial soft power—a heavily romanticised image of what Britain once was, ignoring the violence that underpinned colonialism and retaining the quaint exterior of the erstwhile empire.

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