The Asian Voice

In UK's best interests, Liz Truss should put aside her ideology: China Daily contributor

The writer says it would be an irrational and unwise decision for Ms Truss to pursue a path of coldness or confrontation with China.

Liz Truss, known for her highly ideological worldview and hawkish foreign policy, replaces Boris Johnson in Number 10. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Liz Truss was confirmed on Monday as the new leader of the Conservative Party and the prime minister of the United Kingdom, beating her rival, Rishi Sunak.

Truss, known for her highly ideological worldview and hawkish foreign policy, replaces Boris Johnson in Number 10, after he was forced out of office following a series of scandals which tarnished the reputation of his government.

Truss had secured her ascendency as part of his cabinet, having served first as trade minister and then foreign secretary.

Truss's tenure as prime minister however, is off to an uneasy start.

Things are not well in the UK.

The economy is in contraction and will soon enter a formal recession.

Inflation is soaring, with economists predicting that it could rise up to 23 per cent by next year, and energy bills are skyrocketing as a consequence of the impact of the Ukraine conflict on energy markets.

Truss also faces the dilemma that she has been elected by only the actual members of the Conservative Party, she is largely unpopular among the public in the UK.

She has vowed to almost immediately take action on bringing power bills down, but aside from an immediate cap it remains to be seen what she proposes to do to bring down prices.

But there is another elephant in the room too: China.

Liz Truss is a vocal China hawk who took every opportunity as foreign secretary to be critical of Beijing and enthusiastically joined the bandwagon of any US initiatives.

She replaces the more balanced and favourable approach of Boris Johnson, who had described himself as a "Sinophile" and would have been supportive of the UK's economic engagement with China were it not for the United States.

Truss however, has consistently and publicly sought confrontation with Beijing during her tenure as foreign secretary, with rhetoric that has been a mix of both UK chauvinism and ideological crusading.

She has pushed concepts such as a "Network of Liberty", talked about "bringing countries into the orbit of democratic, free market democracies" and argued that ideology should ultimately come first when it comes to trade.

The leadership contest with Rishi Sunak quickly become a "race to the bottom" in respect to China bashing, with each candidate seeking to rigorously "out hawk" the other.

This played to Truss's advantage, and as a result most commentators are pessimistic that UK-China relations will improve under her tenure.

Yet, given the UK's economic reality, it would be an irrational and unwise decision to pursue a path of coldness or confrontation with China.

Liz Truss has frequently spoken of a "global Britain" and "making Britain more competitive" for investment and business around the world.

Yet it seems quite obvious that if left to her own devices she will be confrontational toward China, which of course is detrimental to her very intentions.

After all, China is the world's second-largest economy and is one of the UK's most important trade and investment partners. According to the UK's Office of National Statistics China was the UK's largest import partner and sixth-largest export partner for goods in 2021, with the UK having imported 63.6 billion pounds of goods from China in that year, whilst exporting 18.8 billion pounds of goods.

The trade between the two has increased as a direct consequence of Brexit, which has damaged the UK's ties with European markets.

In addition, 28,930 Chinese students are studying at British universities in the 2021-2022 academic year, an increase of 12 percent from the previous year.

According to the British Council, this is worth 2.55 billion pounds a year to the British economy.

It is undeniable that open, cooperative and stable economic and human-to-human ties between the two countries are highly lucrative.

Therefore, this poses the question is it wise for Liz Truss to harm ties with China further in the name of ideology, and at the behest of US-centric foreign policy goals?

Truss may talk a lot about democracy, but this dogmatic rhetoric is not going to address the poor economic performance of the UK create jobs or bring inflation under control, all of which are necessary to ease simmering discontent.

If Liz Truss is to be a successful prime minister both at home and on the world stage, then she should be more diplomatic, prudent and rational about the UK's relations with China. Certainly, there can be no "global Britain" without considering the dynamic of the world's most populous country and largest consumer market.

A foreign policy of ideological confrontation on the other hand, will be truly disastrous for UK and will make a bad situation worse.

Before US pressure set in, UK leaders understood the value of good relations China.

This was based on reason and national interest, not ideology. Truss must now make that adaptation accordingly and avoid an abrasive relationship which will only risk isolating the UK further on the global stage.

  • The author is a British political and international relations analyst. China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 regional media titles.

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