In the run-up to the Third Belt and Road Forum, which took place in Beijing on 17-18 October, the Beijing Daily subsidiary Capital News – in collaboration with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies (RDCY) – carried out an interview with Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez, addressing various questions related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), particularly the reasons for the BRI’s success and the absurd nature of the West’s assorted accusations against it – that it constitutes a “debt trap”, or that it is part of a Chinese hegemonic project.
The interview also covers the US-led New Cold War on China, and the West’s attempts to consolidate an anti-China alliance; the significance of the Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative, and Global Civilisation Initiative; the difference between China and the West’s responses to the Ukraine crisis; the significance of BRICS; and the possibilities for getting Britain-China relations back on track.
Capital News: As of June this year, China has signed over 200 cooperation agreements on jointly building the BRI with 152 countries and 32 international organization. Why are more and more countries and regions getting on board with the BRI?
Carlos Martinez: The BRI is playing a hugely significant role in global development. Its historical importance lies in providing primarily the countries of the Global South with the opportunity to modernize and break free from the chains of underdevelopment. These are the same chains that were originally imposed during the colonial era, affecting regions such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Pacific.
In many instances, these chains have persisted beyond the colonial era, extending into what are now considered northern neo-colonial areas or the imperialist era. The relationship between the US, Canada, Europe, and the Global South, particularly developing countries, remains fundamentally predatory. Here, the Global South often provides cheap labor, land, and natural resources, driving a relentless pursuit of profit in the advanced capitalist nations.
China’s approach with the BRI stands in stark contrast to that. It represents a profoundly important shift, characterized by the construction of an extensive network of roads, railways, bridges, factories, ports, telecommunications, green energy infrastructure, and more. These projects leverage China’s exceptional expertise in high-quality construction, honed through decades of infrastructure development within China itself.
This initiative is now opening up some of the world’s most challenging terrains for the construction of roads and railways. For the countries involved, what they are seeking and indeed gaining from the BRI on a historically unprecedented scale is nothing short of development, modernization, and industrialization.
And that means transforming people’s lives. It means creating jobs. It means lifting people out of poverty. It means breaking dependence on the West. Many of the times, when these countries have needed assistance, when they needed help, when they needed loans, they had to go to the IMF or they had to go to the Western lending institutions. And where they got any assistance, it’s been in the form of conditional loans.
You want to loan, that means you have to privatize your water supply, you have to privatize your education system, you have to liberalize your economy. You have to open up your domestic market to western multinationals and so on. Conversely, the BRI, and I would say China’s investment policy in general, works in a fundamentally different way. There are no loan conditions, no traps and none of the punishing, punitive measures often associated with vital infrastructure projects. Recently, CGTN carried an interesting interview with Senegalese president Macky Sall. He underscored precisely this point, emphasizing that China’s financial support in Africa is based on requests made by African nations, with the priorities being set by Africa itself. Furthermore, China’s loans typically come with roughly half the interest rate of Western loans. The repayment period is as much longer, and the terms are far more flexible.
And the results of this type of dynamic is that now Ethiopia has the first metro train in Africa. Lao has a high-speed railway, and it’s now possible to travel from Jakarta to Bandung in 30 minutes, rather than 3 hours. It’s this topic dynamic. That means that Africa has been able to join the renewable energy revolution. So， China is bringing development where the West for so many centuries brought under-development and exploitation. And for China, of course, it’s benefiting economically. These are win-win relationships. But I think more importantly, China’s got the opportunity to share its expertise, its resources, its experiences, which contributes to human progress. Overall, I think it’s part of China’s vision of a community with a shared future for humanity.
Capital News:What do you think are the challenges that the BRI is currently facing on the international stage? And what are the underlying reasons for these challenges?
Carlos Martinez: The BRI has already demonstrated significant successes, especially in the developing regions of Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific.
Now, it’s making inroads into Latin America and the Caribbean. I believe this positive momentum will persist. Notably, Syria, Nicaragua, Argentina, Cuba, and Zambia have recently joined the BRI. If one pays close attention, many other nations are deepening their involvement with this initiative.
However, the complexity arises from the fact that the United States, which holds the top spot in nominal GDP and wields immense influence, especially in the Western world, harbors discontent with the BRI. The U.S. strategy is essentially rooted in extending its 20th-century dominance into the 21st century, a vision encapsulated in what they term the “Project for a New American Century.” This objective is at odds with the BRI’s transformative direction.
The BRI is pivotal in enabling the Global South to reduce its reliance on the West. It’s paving the way for a shift towards a multipolar and post-imperialist world order. In this emerging landscape, the U.S. will continue to be significant, but it won’t retain its status as the sole superpower or the policeman of the world. It must adapt to this evolving reality of a democratic, multipolar, and multilateral world. It’s evident that the U.S. leadership is grappling with this paradigm shift.
The U.S. maintains a notably negative stance towards the BRI. It exerts its influence to dissuade its allies, like India, from engaging with the BRI, despite the substantial benefits such engagement could bring. Anyone visiting India can readily observe the need for improvements in its energy, transport, and telecommunications infrastructure. Moreover, India’s strategic geographical location between West Asia and Southeast Asia positions it to play a pivotal role in enhancing connectivity across the Eurasian supercontinent.
However, the U.S. is leveraging its influence over India to steer it away from the BRI, using it as part of a broader anti-China strategy. A similar approach is being taken with the Philippines. Europe, too, could and should be a significant player in the BRI. European nations stand to gain from connecting with the emerging markets and industrial powerhouses in Asia and Africa—a region characterized by a growing economy, market, and population. Europe boasts extensive expertise in advanced engineering, and European companies could actively participate in bidding for BRI. Nevertheless, they often feel pressured to maintain a certain distance from China due to their longstanding ideological and economic alignment with the U.S..
This challenge is likely to persist in the coming years. The question remains: can Europe, India, the Philippines, Australia, and other nations assert their strategic autonomy to integrate themselves into the BRI, which is undeniably the most significant global infrastructure initiative in history? There are a few other challenges to consider. The U.S. may attempt to propose various alternatives to the Belt and Road, as it has with initiatives like “Build Back Better World.” However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that these projects lack the necessary resources and expertise to truly compete. If the U.S. truly excels in infrastructure development, it should probably consider fixing its own crumbling infrastructure at home.
Another complex challenge confronting the BRI lies in the Western strategy of destabilization, aimed at weakening China and sabotaging the BRI. It’s widely acknowledged that the U.S. supports separatist elements in Xinjiang and actively stirs up tensions in various regions of Central Asia. Notably, these areas constitute vital east-west land routes crucial to the success of the BRI.
The international community has witnessed the profound and lasting impacts of U.S. involvement in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. So, there are these complex and unpredictable military and geopolitical factors that could emerge, potentially posing challenges and obstacles to the BRI. Vigilance in this regard will be essential.
Capital News: In recent years, Western countries led by the United States have been vigorously promoting the idea of “Chinese economic coercion.” They exaggerate the “risks” of investing in China, suggesting that many businesses face “coercion” in the country. They also claim that the BRI is a means for China to economically coerce other nations, with the aim of disrupting China’s international cooperation and pulling more countries into their “anti-China encirclement.” What is your take on this so-called “economic coercion” narrative? Is China a perpetrator of economic coercion?
Carlos Martinez: It’s incredibly ironic and indicative of a certain lack of introspection and self-understanding for the U.S. and the Western world to accuse China or anyone else of economic coercion when the U.S. is the undisputed king of economic coercion.
This sentiment has been echoed by analysts within the U.S. itself, including prominent economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs. He asserts that the U.S. currently wields economic coercion on a global scale. The U.S. unilaterally imposes sanctions on various nations including China, the DPRK, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and several others. This establishes the U.S. as the preeminent global enforcer of economic coercion and unilateral coercive measures. Additionally, both the U.S. and Western lending institutions employ loan conditionality, which constitutes yet another form of economic coercion.
When a developing or financially strapped nation seeks a loan from the U.S., IMF, or Western lending institutions, it often comes with conditions. This may compel the borrowing nation to deregulate its local industries or privatize critical services like water supplies and education systems. This kind of coercion coerces a country into adopting policies it may not otherwise choose, purely due to the urgent need for resources and loans.
In stark contrast, China refrains from employing unilateral sanctions and adheres to the principles of international law in imposing sanctions. China also abstains from implementing loan conditionality. Its loans are agreed upon through bilateral agreements between states or companies and are utilized for projects requested by the borrowing country. As Senegalese President Macky Sall has noted, these projects are conceived and designed with the input of African states to meet the needs of their people. This has been the case across Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Pacific. The notion that China engages in coercive tactics or creates debt traps has been thoroughly debunked. It’s worth noting that none of the countries accusing China of such tactics are actually recipients of these loans.
Countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Senegal, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua—direct recipients of China’s assistance—aren’t leveling accusations of debt traps. Instead, it’s primarily the U.S., Britain, the EU, and Canada making these allegations. This creates a peculiar situation where those who are supposedly affected aren’t raising concerns, while others who aren’t directly involved are leading the charge in a propaganda war against China.
A parallel scenario unfolds with the allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and North Africa, including Pakistan, Palestine, and Iran, notably do not make these accusations. Instead, it’s countries like the U.S., Britain, and France, ironically, which have all been going to war against Muslim-majority countries over the past two decades and face their own challenges with Islamophobia and religious discrimination. They’re the ones advancing these unusual claims.
So, this squander that’s being hurled at China about economic coercion. There are no facts to back it up. And, in fact, it seems like a form of reflection, what it’s about is describing something that the West is actually engaged in and accusing China of that thing.
Capital News: Following the BRI, China has successively put forwards Global Development initiative, Global Security Initiative, and Global Civilization Initiative, offering Chinese solutions to address changes in the world, the era, and history. In the current complex and ever-changing international landscape, with humanity facing unprecedented common challenges, what positive significance do these Chinese initiatives hold?
Carlos Martinez: These three initiatives represent a significant and crucial contribution. Their importance is underscored by the overwhelmingly positive reception they’ve garnered worldwide, especially within the global South and among developing nations. They address the pressing needs of humanity at this juncture.
Consider the Global Development Initiative: There’s no doubt that countries require development, modernization, and industrialization. Yet, what they need most is a contemporary form of development that is green and ecologically sustainable. They need access to a trajectory akin to the one China has followed over several decades—a path characterized by non-exploitative, non-environmentally destructive, and non-aggressive development. This stands in stark contrast to the outdated systems and models of development that were pursued by the West, encompassing North America, Western Europe, and Japan. These models, rooted in aggression, expansionism, colonialism, and imperialism, are no longer viable options.
Moreover, the historical paths taken by Europe and North America, which involved practices like the slave trade and the ruthless exploitation of Africa, are ethically unacceptable. Furthermore, if space is been based on a kind of brutal destruction of the environment, the United States, which has got 4 % of the world’s population, is responsible for 25 % of existing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
Even if such development approaches were still available, they wouldn’t be desirable for the rest of the world to emulate. China, with its distinctive resources and a socialist political system, has forged an alternative development path—one free from war, aggression, and colonialization. Notable, it has the potential to be green and ecologically sustainable and is consistent with humanity’s goal of averting climate breakdown.
The Global Development Initiative, alongside the BRI, offers an invaluable opportunity for other developing nations to embark on a journey of modernization, development, and industrialization—a path marked by peace and sustainability. This bears immense significance. Subsequently, the Global Security Initiative naturally complements the Global Development Initiative. It acknowledges that for nations to thrive, they must first attain stability and security. They need assurance that they won’t be plagued by conflicts that impede progress and prosperity.
The Civilization Initiative follows logically from the Security Initiative. To foster collaboration and avoid conflict or aggression, it’s imperative that we comprehend and appreciate one another. We must create an environment that celebrates our shared humanity, recognizing and respecting the diverse ways in which people across the globe live, think, and act. Our cultures, traditions, and ideologies all contribute to the rich tapestry of human civilization, paving the way for collective advancement.
So, I think Global Development Initiative really represents the overall kind of goal of prosperity and the eradication of poverty worldwide. It finds steadfast support in the Security and Civilization Initiatives. Together, they are geared toward cultivating a sense of shared community for all of humanity.
Capital News: In international multilateral diplomacy, it seems like there’s an increasing divide between Western countries, led by the United States, and many developing nations. James Cleverly, the UK’s Foreign Minister mentioned in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, that leaders from Global South countries have told him that G7 nations only seem concerned with discussing Ukraine. Similar situations occurred at the current G20 summit, where China is advocating for shared development, while other developing nations are focused on implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. But Western countries tend to concentrate more on condemning Russia. How do you view this phenomenon, where G7 nations consistently press other countries to prioritize the Russia-Ukraine conflict regardless of the occasion or context? What does this reflect about the mindset of the U.S. and Western countries?
Carlos Martinez: The Western, particularly the U.S.’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, speaks volumes. There have been other wars, other complexities in the last 20 or 30 years that have received much less attention in U.S. news reporting and political discourse.
For example, in 1999, the U.S. and Europe waged war against Yugoslavia subjecting the country to 78 days of devastating attacks, dropping thousands of bombs and causing the loss of thousands of lives. The way it was portrayed in Western media painted it as a minor conflict, framed as a necessary humanitarian intervention. There was no concerted effort to mobilize the public against war, no widespread international outcry.
No repeated United Nations resolutions condemning the bombing of a sovereign nation, a clear violation of international law without the endorsement of the United Nations. The same pattern emerged in Iraq in 2003. While the situation in Ukraine is undoubtedly tragic, it pales in comparison to the level of devastation witnessed in Iraq, where over a million people, including civilians, lost their lives. The country was essentially bombed into the Stone Age, and it still hasn’t properly recovered from that.
In 2023, Iraq is in an even more dire developmental state than it was in 2003. Yet, this wasn’t a focal point on the agenda. There wasn’t a massive international condemnation, especially not from Western nations who were carrying out this illegal act of aggression. The same narrative holds for Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan. Ukraine has taken center stage, and politicians from the West, some of whom were previously had a reputation of being war hawks—individuals like Joe Biden, who supported nearly every U.S.-involved war—now present themselves as peace activists and staunch opponents of war.
All of these actions are part of an overarching agenda for a ‘New American Century,’ aimed at extending American hegemony and dominance into the 21st century. There’s a significant geopolitical aspect at play here, with the U.S. essentially waging a proxy war against Russia through its actions in Ukraine. The U.S. has been provocatively temping Russia into this conflict with Ukraine for quite some time. Therefore, it’s fair to assert that the U.S. is the ultimate source and cause of this crisis. Their intention now is to leverage the crisis to undermine Russia, possibly to such an extent as to precipitate a regime change in the country. This would align Russia with the broader Western agenda, aligning it with the U.S. and Western Europe. Consequently, as far as the U.S. and the West is concerned, the situation between Russia and Ukraine is the only important situation in the world.
As you pointed out, matters like global poverty have lost their significance in the eyes of the West. They are actively working to take off such concerns from the agendas of international institutions. While these issues continue to be pressing for nations in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, the Pacific, and Africa, they’re largely dismissed by the West. Because they don’t think it is significant. It’s quite striking to observe this dismissal, especially considering the global consensus on the gravity of climate change. Over the past decade, China has clearly emerged as a leading force in renewable energy, electric vehicles, public transportation, biodiversity preservation, and reforestation. They’ve also demonstrated an increasing awareness of the needs of the global South, focusing on how to revolutionize their energy systems and provide more widespread access to modern energy for their populations.
The urgency of addressing environmental concerns, particularly in the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding environmentally destructive practices like fossil fuel consumption, should be a top priority, if not the foremost concern, on the international stage. However, as you’ve pointed out, the Western world appears to have largely shifted its focus away from this critical issue. It is imperative that the West take a leading role in this matter, given its substantial historical responsibility, as acknowledged by international law and the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities.’ The developed nations achieved their current level of prosperity, in large part, through the release of greenhouse gases and the utilization of fossil fuels. Collectively, Western nations bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for existing emissions in the atmosphere. So, they should be using their position and wealth to assist the rest of the world in tackling this challenge. Regrettably, they’ve stopped caring about it. The only thing they want to talk about now is the situation in Ukraine.
However, the way taken in dealing with this conflict also carries its own environmental toll. By preventing European nations from using Russian natural gas, there is a shift towards alternatives such as fracked shale gas from the United States. This entails shipping large quantities across the Atlantic on container ships，its economic cost is double, and the environmental cost is increased many times.
It becomes clear that the U.S. and its Western allies are not actually interested in the broader global interests. The rest of the world is primarily concerned with progress, it’s interested in modernization, safeguarding the environment, ensuring food security, and addressing critical issues such as pandemics, nuclear proliferation and antimicrobial resistance. These are the problems that humanity faces, and the rest of the world wants to face up to those questions. In contrast, the West just puts forward this agenda, which doesn’t prioritize global well-being, prosperity, or the health of our planet. Instead, it seems more focused on asserting hegemony, seeking dominance, and imperialism. It’s about continuing a 20th-century status quo where the U.S. remains the sole superpower.
Capital News: We’ve got some new members joining the BRICS club this year, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Argentina, Iran, and Ethiopia. Also, thanks to China’s push, the African Union hopped on board with the G20 this year. What’s your take on this trend of international organizations expanding? Why do you think developing countries are increasingly standing together?
Carlos Martinez: BRICS is rapidly emerging as the linchpin of the arising multipolar world order, enjoying substantial backing from the entire developing world. In January, six new countries are set to be admitted, with an additional 20 nations vying for membership and another 20 to 30 expressing keen interest. This underscores its dynamic and paramount role on the global stage, commanding immense priority for the international community.
It’s hugely significant that both Iran and Saudi Arabia are joining. These two countries have long stood as adversaries, marked by 4 decades of mutual animosity and conflict. A recent reconciliation between these two countries has been facilitated and moderated by China. The fact that both nations now recognize the importance of BRICS and embrace the concept of a multipolar world is quite significant. They share an understanding that the developing world, particularly the global south, represents the most vibrant and emerging aspect of our planet.
Historically, this development holds great significance. The inclusion of Ethiopia, a highly populated country experiencing rapid growth, is noteworthy. Until fairly recently, well into the 90s, Ethiopia was known as one of the poorest countries in the world, especially in Africa. In the Western world, ‘Ethiopia’ was often synonymous with famine and extreme poverty.
Ethiopia’s development journey, bolstered by collaborations with friendly nations like China, has positioned it on the verge of attaining middle-income status. It stands as one of the most dynamic economies globally. The most exciting economic progress is occurring within the sphere of the developing world and the Global South. BRICS is increasingly emerging as the primary driving force behind this transformation.
This surge of interest in BRICS is well-founded. It signifies a historic, albeit gradual, shift in the world’s economic center of gravity. We are witnessing a transition from the West towards the East and South. So, the importance of the Eastern regions and Global South is on the rise. In this context, BRICS epitomizes this transformative process.
Capital News: So, just before this year’s BRICS summit, South Africa, the chairing country, let slip that there are over 30 countries that have made it clear they want in on BRICS, and that includes some of the buddies from the US and Europe. It was reported that during a chat with South African President, French President Macron put in a request to get in on the BRICS summit. Why are European countries keen on jumping into the BRICS club?
Carlos Martinez: European countries expressing interest in joining or collaborating with BRICS is a positive sign. It indicates their acknowledgment of the shifting global economic landscape, with a growing recognition that power dynamics are moving towards the East and South. This marks the conclusion of a nearly 500-year era dominated by Europe and North America.
While not everyone in Europe shares this perspective, some understand the necessity of adapting to this evolving reality. However, this transition won’t be an easy process. European countries, in particular, under great deal of pressure from the U.S. to join in with a new Cold War stance, opposing multipolarity. The U.S. was outraged when French President Macron went to Beijing a few months ago and had a very high-level bilateral talks with China’s president. He made a perfectly sensible comment to the press that Europe must make its own decisions and maintain its strategic autonomy to develop its own independent policy in relation to China. It’s pretty clear that’s not what the U.S. wants. Strategic autonomy for Europe is not what the US favors. At present, the U.S. still wields substantial economic, ideological, and political influence over Europe. This is evident in Europe’s involvement in the proxy conflict against Russia in Ukraine, in spite of the fact that it’s like directly harmful to the living standards of the European citizens, who grapple with crises such as inflation and the rising cost of living directly linked to the situation in Ukraine.
While it is positive that Europe is showing interest in BRICS, the pursuit of strategic autonomy will undoubtedly be a complex and arduous journey.
Capital News: Lately, there has been a peculiar surge of attention in the UK towards “Chinese espionage activities”. Previously, British media claimed that two British individuals were arrested on suspicion of providing intelligence to China. However, one of them, a British parliamentary researcher accused of being a ‘Chinese spy,’ responded by stating that he is ‘completely innocent’. On October 23rd, several British media outlets hyped up the so-called “Chinese laundry workers suspected of engaging in espionage activities in the UK”. The British Royal Navy has begun to cease employing laundry workers from China, citing “espionage risk” as the rationale, with the majority of these workers originating from Hong Kong. Earlier, Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, the UK’s intelligence agency, also claimed that China is conducting an “epic scale” of espionage activities against the UK, aiming to steal sensitive information such as British scientific research achievements. How do you view the British media and politicians sensationalizing the alleged “Chinese espionage activities against the UK”?
Carlos Martinez: There has been a notable surge in reports of alleged Chinese spy activities in the UK, mirroring similar reports in the US. I think the recent narrative surrounding the spy balloon incident in the US is indicative of a broader trend across the Western world.
Initially, the Chinese side maintained that the object in question was a meteorological device, specifically a weather balloon that had gone astray. However, the U.S. refused to accept that and made a big fuss, turning it into headline news for several days. Subsequently, the U.S. took the unilateral and, some argue, reckless and stupid decision to shoot down the supposed spy balloon.
Months later, when actual evidence was released, it turned out that the object was, indeed, a weather balloon and not equipped for espionage. This scenario appears to parallel the current story in the UK involving an alleged parliamentary researcher who is said to have lobbied for or provided information to China. Such incidents seem to fit into a broader strategy, characterized by elements reminiscent of the Cold War era and McCarthyism.
These narratives serve as a form of propaganda, aimed at painting China as a hostile, dangerous, expansionist force—portraying it as a threat to Britain’s national security. This narrative, in turn, provides justification for what is perceived as a new Cold War initiated by the West against China, encompassing policies of encirclement and containment.
This narrative aims to garner support from the British public for various measures, such as supplying military aid to Taiwan province. It also serves as a rationale for initiatives like the AUKUS trilateral military pact involving Britain, the US, and Australia, which is quite clearly related to the project of China and circumvent. Additionally, it provides justification for the imposition of sanctions on China, along with aggressive economic measures against the country. These include restricting Chinese involvement in British telecommunications infrastructure, such as excluding Huawei from our 5G network and imposing barriers on the import of solar panels, electric vehicles, batteries, and other related products.
It’s important to recognize that these actions may have economic repercussions for the British population. For instance, without Huawei in the 5G infrastructure, Britain may end up paying more for an inferior product, potentially compromising the efficiency of network connectivity. This narrative is therefore employed in the broader context of a propaganda campaign to justify these policies in the eyes of the British public. The spy stories are just one part of this broader strategy.
There’s a concerning, McCarthyism-inspired element to this dynamic, prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic. These narratives, often referred to as the “yellow peril” stereotypes, are gaining traction and are becoming increasingly pervasive in the media. The intention seems to be to heighten the physical and psychological costs associated with aligning with China, representing a remarkable transformation from just 8 or 9 years ago.
Back then, China and the UK were enjoying what was dubbed the “golden era” of their friendship. In 2015, China’s President Xi visited Britain and held productive discussions with then-Prime Minister David Cameron. They forged numerous agreements, including Britain’s participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, despite significant pressure from the United States. It was seen as crucial for the economic development of Britain to maintain a friendly, mutually beneficial relationship with China. At that time, the cost of such an affiliation was not as high, nor was there such a severe penalty for expressing positivity towards China or discussing its accomplishments.
Fast forward a few years, and today, even stating objectively true and evident facts can mark one out as a dissenting voice. For example, celebrating China’s success in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty or acknowledging its progress as a global leader in renewable energy production can label you as a dangerous person of someone who’s going against the dominant narrative.
This surge in McCarthyism has unfortunately been linked to a notable rise in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism. This disturbing trend is increasingly manifesting on the streets of major cities, such as London and New York. The espionage narratives appear to be tailored to exacerbate this anti-China sentiment, particularly in the context of this new Cold War environment.
Capital News: Over the past several years, it seems like the British political scene has been in a state of confusion regarding how to handle UK-China relations. On one hand, you have figures like Prime Minister Sunak and Foreign Secretary Cleverly who believe that there should be continued engagement between the UK and China. On the other hand, you have figures like former Conservative Party leader Duncan Smith, who thinks that China should now be labeled as a “threat.” It’s understandable why the U.S. government, politicians, and media would vilify and criticize China – they’re essentially trying to maintain American hegemony. But what’s the underlying motive behind Britain doing the same thing?
Carlos Martinez: It’s an important question that people in Britain should be asking themselves. One thing is that the relationship between the US and China has deteriorated. Obviously, 10 years ago, we witnessed the beginnings of what could be termed a new Cold War, with President Obama’s announcement of the “pivot to Asia” in 2011. Since then, the U.S., along with the rest of the Western world, has to some degree increasingly identified China as its primary challenge. This entailed a substantial military reorientation, involving the redeployment of troops and resources from the Middle East to the Pacific, marking a significant strategic focus on China.
Despite this, there still existed a level of reasonable cooperation. U.S.-China trade continued to grow, and the bilateral discussions between the two countries’ president played a pivotal role in the success of the Paris climate summit in 2015, culminating in international agreements and significant commitments.
However, the relationship has witnessed a marked deterioration since then. When former U.S. president Trump came to power, he did so on a platform largely characterized by anti-China rhetoric. He vowed to rescue the American economy by taking a tough stance against China. During his election campaign, he famously claimed that China was economically exploiting the US, framing it as one of the worst economic crimes in history, among other ridiculous sensationalist statements. This signaled his intention to launch a more aggressive anti-China campaign, which subsequently materialized with the initiation of a trade war and the ensuing diplomatic strain.
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has continued with that trajectory and to the point where now there’s really a bipartisan consensus in the U.S. now, the democrats and the republicans, they don’t agree on much, but they agree on being anti-China. And it’s difficult to see that changing anytime soon, I hope I’m wrong.
So, dynamics has been changed. And Britain has tended to, historically over the last 70 years, be very much influenced by the United States. And that’s been exacerbated since Britain voted to leave the EU and to leave the European single market, then that leaves Britain in economically very difficult situation, because Britain did the bulk of its trade via the EU.
All of a sudden, working towards a Free Trade Agreement with the United States became of utmost importance for Britain. The country is still in the process of negotiating this agreement, which has made it much more sensitive to how Britain is thought of in the US. As a result, there’s been a tendency to essentially align British foreign policy with Washington’s objectives. This has been a longstanding trend for Britain, exemplified by its strong partnership with the United States in key foreign policy decisions.
In 2003, for instance, while France and Germany voiced reservations about going to war in Iraq, Britain played a leading role in that conflict, showcasing a very strong partnership between the Blair government and the Bush administration in the United States. Similarly, in 2011, Britain was one of the leading instigators of this brutal destruction of Libya of bombing Libya into the stone age. This historical connection is deeply ingrained.
Westminster is now deeply concerned that if they go against the U.S. wishes in relation to China now, then they’ll have no hope of getting a Free trade agreement and find themselves very isolated. This concern is particularly pronounced since Britain’s departure from the EU.
Capital News: But we now see that many citizens stay in London, they want to come back to the European Union. So, do you think they will success?
Carlos Martinez: My personal view is that leaving the European Union was an act of self-harm, marked by an unpleasant campaign that was largely driven by racist and xenophobic sentiments, as well as an anti-immigration stance. The result of this decision is now evident for all to see: Britain’s economy is enduring significant challenges.
And the one thing that could mitigate the situation and improve Britain’s economy really and truly would be excellent relationship with China. Currently, there is a headline-grabbing crisis in Britain regarding the anticipated announcement by the Prime Minister regarding the future of the HS2 rail infrastructure project. This project was intended to symbolize a “leveling up” agenda, aiming to boost prosperity in the North and address the economic stagnation and decline that has persisted for over half a century. HS2 was envisioned as a cornerstone of this endeavor.
It’s highly likely that the HS2 development will essentially halt, not extending any further north than Birmingham and not even reaching as far south as Euston in central London.
And what’s interesting is that 3 years ago, China had offered to undertake this project, promising timely delivery at a significantly lower cost. Looking at the current state of the project, one can’t help but think how beneficial it would have been if the British government had accepted the offer from the Chinese state-owned enterprise to construct this railway. We would be reaping the benefits now. Unfortunately, the project is probably going to collapse entirely.
The reason we didn’t accept that offer everyone in the world knows that if you want to build infrastructure quickly into a high quality, and for a relatively low cost, turning to the Chinese is a sound choice. They possess incredible resources and experience in doing that.
Everyone in the world knows that, but Britain couldn’t accept that offer, largely due to its commitment to the broader agenda of the new Cold War. There appears to be a segment within the British ruling class and circles that recognize the significance of UK-China relations. This is evidenced by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly’s recent visit to Beijing and his relatively sensible remarks on the matter.
It should be uncontroversial, but in today’s climate, even stating such a perspective is noteworthy. Cleverly emphasized that whatever we think of China, it remains a very important country and will not stop being a very important country. We must actively engage with China and work towards establishing diplomatic and economic relationship. We may not agree with it on everyone, on everything, but we can have our differences. That’s okay. But we should be trading with China and we should be working with China on the major problems of the day. It’s significant that Cleverly made this statement, because it’s kind of a response to the more hawkish and aggressive forces within the British Parliament. These elements, which likely constitute a majority at present, advocate for a more hostile and antagonistic positioning towards China. So that’s the situation we’re in.