As China’s influence grows, U.K. should urge contributions to regional stability

The Yomiuri Shimbun Calling on China to abide by international rules while deepening economic relations with China. This latest development can be said to have once again brought to the fore a challenge mutually confronted by every country.

British Prime Minister Theresa May visited China and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other officials. Touting a “golden age” in bilateral relations, both countries signed trade deals worth £9 billion (about ¥1.4 trillion).

Regarding China’s “Belt and Road” mega economic zone initiative, Xi said both countries “can have broader cooperation under the framework” and called on Britain to actively take part in the initiative.

While showing her positive stance toward the initiative, May did not agree to sign a memorandum to fully endorse the initiative but instead asked China to meet international standards. It was an appropriate response.

With regard to the initiative, there are strong concerns over the low level of transparency and an adverse impact on the environment. The important thing is that the initiative should be promoted not to benefit Chinese companies but to contribute to the improvement of infrastructure in each country and to regional stability.

Japan and other countries that have committed themselves to cooperate with the initiative must convey this stance to China.

The previous British administration led by Prime Minister David Cameron was the first among the Group of 7 major economies to declare it would take part in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Under his administration, both countries also agreed on a Chinese firm’s taking part in Britain’s nuclear power plant project.

Strengthen Japan-Britain ties

While maintaining a certain distance from the “honeymoon” ties promoted under the previous administration, May is working to promote trade with China.

This stance is being taken because British cooperation with China — the world’s second-largest economy — is essential to limit the damage that its exit from the European Union will do to its economy. It may also be aimed at concluding a free trade agreement between Britain and China in the future.

The “America First” policy pursued by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is doubtless behind Britain and other European countries’ approaching China. Taking advantage of the chilly relations between the United States and European countries, China is expanding its influence.

China’s Belt and Road initiative also won an endorsement from French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited China in January. By undermining the unity of European countries through its economic assistance and investment in central and eastern European countries, China is preventing itself from being criticized over such issues as human rights concerns.

During her latest visit to China, May also discussed such issues as China’s meddling in Hong Kong’s judiciary and human rights violations. To continue urging China to abide by international norms on such issues as human rights concerns will be more difficult than demanding the country follow international rules in the economic field.

It will not be easy for any country to single-handedly confront China, a country that is gaining power economically and militarily. Japan has promoted security cooperation with Britain, bearing in mind the task of dealing with China’s maritime advances in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. This bilateral relationship should be boosted further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 4, 2018)Speech


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