Sun Tzu famously wrote in The Art of War, “Know yourself, know your enemy. A hundred battles fought, a hundred battles won”. Liz Truss, who is presumed to be the next British prime minister, is determined to do the opposite.
It appears that in trying to “outhawk” everyone over China, she has been making sure her government should know less, not more about it. As the outgoing foreign secretary, one of her last acts is to cancel funding for the Great Britain-China Centre, a well-regarded think tank under the British Foreign Office, with a humble annual budget of a mere £500,000 (US$582,000).
The centre provides independent expert information and analysis on China, and often offers mandarins at Whitehall the chance to meet foreign specialists, including Chinese state officials.
The ostensible reason for cutting funding is to save costs. The real reason, it has been reported, is that the centre and its bosses are seen as too willing to listen to sometimes opposing Chinese viewpoints. Truss doesn’t think it’s a good idea for British officials to learn how Chinese communists see things.
In her bid to be Britain’s next leader, she said she would declare China a “threat” to national security. If so, she may need to learn all she can about China, and the China centre was set up decades ago precisely for that reason – to compensate for the lack of knowledge and intellectual prowess of rising political stars. But for Truss, it seems ignorance is bliss.
Instead, she is reportedly planning to reopen a review setting out Britain’s diplomatic and defence priorities, in which she wants China relabelled an “acute threat” like Russia. Interesting how conclusions have already been drawn ahead of the review.
As foreign secretary, she has been among the most gung-ho of Western politicians against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. It seems the less she knew, the more passionate she became.
In the run-up to the invasion in late February, she told the BBC that “we are supplying and offering extra support to our Baltic allies [of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania] across the Black Sea”, apparently confusing the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea, which are more than 1,120km apart.
But that wasn’t a one-off. In a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, she inexplicably declared that Britain would never diplomatically recognise Rostov and Voronezh. Both regions are Russian, and she had to be corrected by aides. Actually, I sympathise as I am about as ignorant as she is. I have heard of Rostov but had no idea where Voronezh was until I googled it on a map. But then, I am just a hack, not a foreign minister trying to stop an invasion and now about to become the prime minister of a major Western country.
I seriously doubt Truss knows any better about Chinese geography and economy than Russia’s. But that may not matter much, at least so far as Washington and the Anglo-American alliance are concerned. The United States has already decided that the West must take on China, and Australia and Britain have jumped on board against the Great Yellow Peril.
If you want to propagandise and demonise an enemy, in fact, the less you know, the more effective you will be in believing your own claims, however outlandish and ridiculous.