• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 8:53am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Why tiny old Britain still has clout

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 4:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 December, 2013, 1:11pm

State visits are scripted to set the stage for reciprocal warm rhetoric and analogies. Hence, Premier Li Keqiang said after meeting visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron that China and the UK had become "indispensable partners" in a relationship comparable to a high-speed train that can "constantly increase its speed". Cameron responded in kind, pledging British support for China to "realise its dream".

But sometimes commentary from a well-connected source on the sidelines can put a different complexion on the situation. For example, the Global Times, a newspaper under party mouthpiece the People's Daily, made it clear Beijing had not forgotten its outrage when Cameron met the Dalai Lama last year, saying China would not fall for Cameron's "sincerity" and London needed to be made to pay the price for intruding into China's interests. But that was not what made the Global Times commentary the most commented-on report carried by SCMP online. It was the paper's dismissal of the UK as "just an old European country" that is only a destination for Chinese to study and travel.

Cameron did not provoke this response; he steered clear of sensitive issues like human rights and political reform. And the Dalai Lama is obviously off Britain's A-list of dignitaries. Indeed, Cameron's visit marked the full reconciliation of Sino-British ties, with agreements to co-operate in high-speed railways and nuclear energy, and on investment, finance, legal affairs, culture and health care co-operation. This reflects China's broader global interests. Britain may be old and a small power, but it projects soft power above its weight through a far-flung colonial legacy of culture, language and values. It may have an ambivalent relationship with Europe but it remains a pre-eminent financial centre.

It is not to facilitate tourism and study alone that China has strengthened its ties with Britain. It is to foster closer understanding with a fellow permanent member of the UN Security Council that bridges Europe and the US.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

........As do museums in dozens of other countries. But are the items you speak of truly possessions of Current Chinese State? Do items from the Yuan dynasty belong to Mongolia of the Communist Party? What about ancient Tibetian artifacts or items from the Waring States period? Where do you draw the line between that which belongs to humanity and that which belongs to a modern state? Taiwan has the bulk of Chinese "treasures," but I guess that's Ok since you call them part of the PRC. Thank god so much of it departed China otherwise it would have been destroyed by the craziness of Mao's cultural revolution, like so much of it was. History is relative and who really owns what treasures is relative to time and place. One cannot look at history in a microcosm - what land mass or what borders or what colonies a country had of yesteryear are certainly not the same today and are much less relevant. Have you noticed when China's makes attempt to show that the Senkaku Islands have historically belonged to China, yet that history includes a period when Guanxi was not even part of China? The Chinese have too much on their hands now. Moving on is what they need to do
Among all the foreign countries who had occupied China, Britain has the most recent and continuity in relationship with China. It is inevitable Britain should have the best Chinese specialists with insights in China’s culture – old and new. I believe the Brits intellectually understand even the manner and psychology of the Chinese people. I will not be surprised that the library at Oxford and Cambridge may have rooms of books on China. Hong Kong as a colony, its Hong Kong University must have contributed knowledge nothing less of modern China. When a high official from Britain appears in China nothing should be underestimated by the host.
The Chinese newspaper’s dismissal of UK as a country only is good for tourists to visit and students to study, seemed on the contrary not to have reciprocally benefited from the relationships. Such utterances only display shallowness and ignorance that hampers more than facilitate further relationship building. The truth is that British are still knowledgeable in China that other foreign countries (including US) may seek advice from. May be the newspaper and hence the leadership is attempting to cut Britain’s world influence precisely.
The British Museum also has rooms of Chinese treasures pillaged from its invasions.
Was on an international flight from Shanghai when the pilot announced we are now leaving China's airspace. There was a spontaneous applause.
China should not be so quick to put down "little" England.
What were they doing in Shanghai then. Have they been 'shanghaied'?
What was the point of this editorial?
Of Course the little comment from the Global Times about Britain irks people for its "small mindedness" and "ignorance." It is a case many otherwise very serious newspaper paying too much attention to something that's rather silly. Could Hong Kong and overseas press sometimes be paying too much attention and comb through Global Times without judicious judgement. Why would any parents pay their hard-earned dollars to study in a "little country" this is in itself contradictory. C'mon , editors of SCMP should know better. Many seasoned journalists know how to ready People's daily with skills and analysis and ignore the trash. it is a training.
They know us better than we do them. Or, if the Orientalist is right, they know us better than we do ourselves. Sad, but true?
Not all museums hold items pillaged items. Heard of the Elgin marbles among other things?


SCMP.com Account