Calling out unacceptable behaviour: Charles Parton discusses the problem of Chinese interference in the United Kingdom.

AuthorParton, Charles

Of late it has generally been assumed that by the middle of this century China will be the super-power. I question that. I am convinced that it will not be the super-power of the 21st century; I am not even sure it is going to be a super-power of the 21st century. But it will be a power, and in the next five to ten years we certainly need to treat it as though it might be a super-power.

The overall aim must be for the United Kingdom, as it is for New Zealand, to have good relations with China. I think there is an ideological tinge to this debate, particularly in the United States and sometimes elsewhere, but that is not the way it should be. The British are normally a pragmatic people, and that is the way we should approach this subject.

Although the world has not changed, we have to accept that perceptions have. In assessing the nature of the systems which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has in China, whether it is their political system, value system or economic system --state-led versus market-led--we should not be fooled by suggestions that the market plays the decisive role in the allocation of resources, as portrayed in the slogan from the 13th Party Congress. It is a state-led system. President Xi Jinping is solidifying this divergence when he talks about the Party leading everything. Let us not forget that, or ignore it. Technology and the speed of advance is actually adding to the divergence and that, of course, comes home most strongly in a subject like 5G and Huawei.

We need much more clearly to define our own national security. And make it clear to China that there are certain fields that are simply off limits. Just as they are for the Chinese and us: they rule out an awful lot more for us. We are not anti-Chinese, we are not even anti-CCP, but we are very pro our own security, interests and values. We should be standing up with a lot more confidence in those.

How should British policy go? We need a very clear China strategy, and we do not have one. We need to make it clear not just to ourselves but to the Chinese which areas are on for discussion and which are not, to maximise our trade investment outside those areas which are too sensitive and to maximise our co-operation in all the other fields where you build trust, such as global pollution, climate change, global health and humanitarian aid. But in that process we need a mature discussion also about some of the practices that are not going to help that business of building good relations. And one of those, of course, is interference in all its many forms.

Interference covers seven areas. Some are very obvious, like espionage; others are areas of potential interference, such as in our critical national infrastructure with its 5G or power grids. Some are further down the line in terms of technological spillover of excellent Chinese technologies like WeChat and Alipay, which will come much more into our societies. It is a big question whether we can be happy with our information being readily available in Beijing.

Apart from obvious and potential interference, there are four other areas of interference--academia and think tanks, our political system, our rule of law/action on the ground and our media. In writing my paper recently published in the Royal United Services Institution website, (1) I sought to spark a debate in the United Kingdom. There is none at the moment, and there really should be. In contrast there is very vibrant debate in New Zealand, through the work of Anne-Marie Brady and others, and in Australia. It is an awful lot more vibrant than it is in the UK. So if my paper gets any attention at all in the current Brexit imbroglio, I hope it stirs up a debate. We may find at the end of it that the problems are not very great and we can relax, or that in certain areas action needs to be taken. I am not pre-judging the outcome of that debate.

In my...

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