China is a threat. China is not a threat. Britain can’t seem to decide. At the moment, its latest prime minister appears to think it isn’t, well, at least not exactly. Cornered by reporters travelling with him to the G20 summit in Bali, Rishi Sunak hinted he would not take up a plan first floated by his predecessor Liz Truss to declare China a “threat” to British national security as part of a major review of the nation’s foreign policy. He softened his language on Beijing and replied twice to questions from reporters that he had no intention to elevate China’s status to a “threat”, rather than a “systemic competitor” as stated in the current version of Britain’s integrated review of its foreign and defence priorities from last year that was originally ordered by Boris Johnson. Gone was the language of “CHINA OUR #1 THREAT”, typed in bold on the subject line of his Tory leadership campaign press release while he was running against Truss before the Conservative Party’s faithful. But then there have already been three prime ministers this year; who knows what the next one will think about China? Perhaps he or she can pick rose petals, but instead of asking, she loves me, she loves me not … it can be, China is a threat, China is not a threat. Meeting between Xi Jinping and British PM Rishi Sunak called off The fact of the matter is that national security, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. China is not intrinsically one or the other; its status is mostly dependent on the domestic politics and external exigencies of Britain and its allies. This is especially so in a globalised, highly integrated world in which nations share vital interests as well as face conflicts regardless of their political ideologies and governing systems. And a lot of these globalised links are hidden, but whose disruptions can cause disasters around the world, such as the food and energy inflation and fallouts from the war in Ukraine and the sanctions regime put in place against Russia by the West. Decoupling is hard, if not impossible. At the moment, there seems to be a softening among the Western nations towards China. Xi Jinping and Joe Biden met for three hours on the sidelines of the G20 summit. As opposed to short meetings, long ones are usually a good sign that the two sides want to settle conflicts or at least calm tensions that could potentially spin out of control. It may be too early to hope for a thaw between the two increasingly hostile superpowers. The two leaders at least came out of the meeting with a clutch of goodwill gestures. Xi-Biden talks: Taiwan is still the big red line in China-US relations French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte could also claim success at the summit in soliciting Xi’s stated opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, in reference to the war in Ukraine. This was despite the Chinese president having already said it explicitly once before, and “no first use” has long been China’s nuclear policy, one that it has consistently tried to encourage other nuclear-armed states to adopt. There is also the backdrop of climate negotiations at COP27 in Egypt in which China’s cooperation will be crucial. Back in Britain, despite his campaign rhetoric, Sunak was never a true anti-China hawk. As chancellor, he quietly ordered the treasury department to try to resume the UK-China Economic and Financial Dialogue, an important trade summit that was suspended in 2019 following conflicts over Beijing’s handling of anti-government riots and protests in Hong Kong and the Covid-19 pandemic. Far from leading a global effort to soften the stance on Beijing, Sunak is just going with the flow of the West that has suddenly decided China is less of a threat than it was last week. Who knows how it will be viewed next week? Western democratic politics, like the stock market, is as fickle as they come.