A new report on Britain’s future relations with China has called on the government to set up an interference watchdog to monitor Beijing’s attempts to influence Whitehall from within.
The first full report by the China Research Group (CRG) was published on Monday and was written by veteran diplomat and China expert Charles Parton, who describes the changing relationship between Britain and the world’s second largest economy as a “war of values”.
CRG was founded in April this year and is led by the Conservative Members of Parliament Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien.
Like the party’s European Research Group, which successfully lobbied for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the CRG is trying to lobby the government for a more resolute China policy.
In his paper, Parton calls for a “carefully managed” departure from the “golden era” of Sino-British relations under Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Oborne, which he described as “laudable” goals but a “weak” understanding of the Chinese Communist Party.
“The withdrawal from the ‘golden era’ to a more balanced relationship with China will bring some pain,” he writes. “The CCP has the instinct to tyrannize. Nevertheless, the readjustment must be carried out”.
In the process, Downing Street needs to strengthen the existing oversight bodies that protect against government espionage, influence and lobbying, and set up a new watchdog to oversee activities ranging from Chinese investment in British industry to cooperation in academic and technological research, the report advises.
Parton, who has worked in and on China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for more than two decades, says the British government “lacks literacy in China”. He also encourages “more studies on China and Chinese in our education system.
“An overarching body with the full participation of the Prime Minister”, coupled with a deeper understanding of China’s ruling party and how it operates, would help Whitehall to shape a consistent China policy and prevent the government from “turning around” on issues like Huawei and his involvement in the UK 5G network, Parton said.
The proposed government regulator would be able to make quick decisions on permissible areas of joint research between universities and areas of technological R&D cooperation to prevent China from exploiting “dual-use technology,” he added.
The report also calls on the government to address the phenomenon of “elite capture”, where former ministers and officials take up posts in foreign companies that are close to the Chinese government. “Some may promote policies or take positions that better serve the interests of potential employers than those of Britain,” Parton explains.
In the paper, Parton suggests that the bipartisan anti-China sentiment in Washington means that the United States is likely to move toward “decoupling” from Beijing. Britain does not need to follow its transatlantic ally and should instead opt for “decoupling”.
“This means accepting differences of opinion in certain areas while maximizing cooperation in areas where interests overlap,” he explains, describing a model of relations with China similar to that of the European Union.
Parton rejects the idea of China’s “inevitable and irresistible rise” and calls it “propaganda”.
His last “question of values” is that of Taiwan, which he calls a “living democracy”.
“The CCP’s threat to force unification by force could be one of the biggest and most urgent attacks on global human rights,” he writes. “It is a question of the fundamental right of people to choose the form of their government and society”.
He concludes: “The government of Britain, if possible together with others, should make it clear to the CCP in advance and in silence that our reaction to a violent takeover of power in Taiwan will be severe, including the breaking off of diplomatic and trade relations.
“The likely reaction will be loud and unpleasant. But provided that we are determined, the CCP will take note of this, because after all, it knows that the consequences in the form of a decline in trade and investment will lead to significant unemployment and thus to unrest on the mainland, which may be a challenge to its rule.