The UK needs a fundamental rethink of its relationship with China

Tom Pridham

April 13, 2020

As we gradually adjust to the new reality of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is natural to look towards the future and how the current war will shape the subsequent peace. One aspect of our future that requires further thought is the UK’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

The Henry Jackson Society has released a report highlighting how China’s violation of the international health regulations (2005) could make it liable for trillions of pounds in compensation. The chair of the foreign affairs committee, Tom Tugendhat, has called for a rethink of our relationship with China and reducing our dependence on Beijing. This is not only a necessary step, but it also exposes a tension in our approach thus far between prosperity and freedom. It is now time to resolve this tension. 

Contrary to the assertions of its global public relations campaign, it is clear that the Chinese Communist party (CCP) is responsible for the international spread of the virus. Thousands of British lives are now being lost due to the fundamentally deceptive, irresponsible and evil nature of the Chinese regime. Had China fulfilled its international obligations and taken prompt action, the virus could have been contained.

Indeed, a study by the University of Southampton found that the spread of Covid-19 could have been reduced by 95 per cent if action had been taken three weeks earlier. However, the CCP was more concerned about saving face than saving the lives of its citizens. Furthermore, the public health risk posed by live animal “wet markets” has been known for some time, yet the Chinese government has refused to take meaningful action, which has now led to tragic consequences on a global scale. This behaviour is rooted firmly in the inhumane ideology that has guided Chinese regimes since 1949.

When it comes to the UK government’s position on China in recent years, prosperity has been the priority. The coalition government pursued a policy that promoted economic links on the basis that strong trade with a global economic superpower such as China would provide enormous benefits to the UK population. This led to disagreements with our closest ally, the United States.

The UK’s decision to become a founding member of the Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank provoked anger in Washington, with the Obama administration making its concerns known. This dynamic played out again following the UK’s decision to allow Huawei to build part of its 5G network. One could argue that – at the time – the risk was worth taking for the potential benefits on offer. However, the current crisis has exposed the enormous costs of this approach and highlighted the need for a complete change of course, even if this proves costly for our prosperity in the short term. 

It is now clear that while our approach to China has the potential to enhance prosperity in the short term, it risks our freedom – and therefore prosperity – in the long term. Rather than strapping ourselves to the Chinese economy, we should take the lead in establishing a new global coalition that values freedom, democracy and accountability.

We should work with the nations of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and others including South Korea and the Republic of China (Taiwan) to build closer economic links, which – over time – can substitute those we have developed with the People’s Republic of China.

This policy should be undertaken in partnership with as many liberal democracies as possible, whether they be in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Australasia or Asia. It is likely that weaning ourselves off trade with China will be costly and could compromise our prosperity in the short to medium term – but it is worth it. By establishing a foreign economic policy that prioritises freedom – as well as economic growth – we give ourselves a better chance of establishing a basis for long-term prosperity and human dignity. It is essential that we start this process now.


Written by Tom Pridham

Tom Pridham is a political consultant.


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