It seems that the UK is in conflict with China over three clusters of issues. Firstly, there is Huawei and the 5G network. Huawei is probably the leading contractor for 5G works. Huawei is already embedded in 2 and 4G set ups. Huawei is not a company as known in the West. It receives huge subsidies from the Chinese government allowing Huawei to offer very cheap contracts. Further, under Chinese law any company has to do the works of the State. So from unfair competition to the risk of spying and espionage Huawei is problematic. Until this week, the government had accepted Huawei as a partner in 5G. However, American pressure and pressure from our intelligence allies and pressure from Tory backbenchers and the Opposition finally achieved its objective. Huawei is no longer a partner and its current installations are to be stripped out.
The second area of conflict is over Hong Kong. The UK handed back the colony of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997. The Chinese were to accept a democratic (ish) Hong Kong in China’s one country two systems settlement. This was to last for 50 years. However, there has been an increasing Chinafication over Hong Kong. The worst of this was a new law allowing the Chinese authorities to extradite suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China. This was seen as a law too far and demonstrations began. Over many months the demonstrations grew and they took on the mantle of demonstrating for Hong Kong’s independence from China; the British colonial flag was flown as a symbol of independence. Eventually China reacted. They passed a security law banning subversion and punishing people with up to life imprisonment; the Chinese have already arrested flag-wavers.
All of this has led the UK government to offer 3 million Hong Kongers sanctuary in the UK. The government has just suspended our membership in a 30 year-old extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
The third area of conflict is over the Uigars of south-west China. These are Turcomen Muslims. China sees them as a threat to the unity of China and has taken action to forestall any moves to independence. Thousands of Uigars are being re-educated in camps. Families are being broken up and children being brought up in orphanages. Women are being forcibly steralised. Now there are concentration camps and Uigar hair is being sold in a grotesque reminder of the Jewish Holocaust of the second world war.
It took the UK government a long time to act on behalf of the Uigars. It seems that Tory backbenchers and the realpolitik of finding another weapon with which to beat the Chinese has led to government support for the Uigars.
In all of this China has threatened retaliation. However, the last time there was a diplomatic crisis, trade patters were maintained and trade even increased. Further, neither side wants to raise the temperature too far. China is already involved in a nasty trade war with Trump’s USA; China does not want a further conflict. The UK has been the destination for considerable Chinese investment. Two nuclear power stations are to be built with Chinese involvement; it is doubtful that the UK could make good the potential loss of investment. There needs to be some kind of resolution in Hong Kong. Huawei could be reintroduced to the process if the Democrat Joe Biden is elected and takes a slightly easier view of relations with China.