Beijing to Britain

G7 announce Western BRI, supply chains, Swire and Jardines, new Chinese Ambassador to UK

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The United Kingdom now has the starting point of a new ‘China Strategy’ - albeit a modest couple of pages in a much longer document, the Integrated Review, setting out the country’s foreign policy. Government will use this to attempt to align political behaviour with regards to Departments, and provide clarity to businesses operating between both countries.

This starting point on a strategy for China will continue to prove highly contentious. Political views will remain polarised, and those MPs active on China will likely push for further clarification.

The Review adds credence to our view that two loose schools of thought have emerged in Westminster. One calls for a fundamental reset of British relations with China, championing human rights over trade, and pushing for all engagement to be through a values-led approach. The other school pushes for a realpolitik approach; while the so-called ‘Golden Era’ may be over, it is better to keep China at the table through diplomacy and trade, even at the expense of human rights - without these, the UK has no leverage or bargaining chips.

The majority of China-centric politicians in the UK can roughly be placed into one of these schools, although their views often change depending on the issue at play. It’s worth noting that neither school believes that an enriched Chinese middle class will steer the country towards democracy. While the Government may pretend that is has strategised around the values-led approach advocated by the first school, is the latter approach that it has chosen to embrace in a hybrid fashion, by portraying trade as a vehicle to hold China to account.

And so ‘Beijing to Britain’ was born - a weekly overview of the ebbs and flows of this discussion, and how it impacts politics, the private sector and society.

As always: tips, feedback, and your views to BeijingToBritain@protonmail.com.

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Politics

  • G7

  • Supply chains

  • Olympic boycotts

  • Trading practises

  • Hong Kong

Business

  • New anti-sanctions legislation

  • Hong Kong companies under fire

  • Universities and ties to China

Society

  • Space race


First, a quick look at this week for China in Parliament

  • 49 mentions of China

  • No mention of Xi Jinping

  • 27 mentions of Hong Kong

  • 5 mentions of Uyghurs

  • 8 mentions of CCP

  • 7 mentions of Magnitsky

  • 589 out of 650 MPs (90.6%) have a Twitter account.



Who’s asking what?

Order! Order!

Some of the more eye-catching questions asked in Westminster this week

  • Layla Moran (Lib Dem, IPAC member) asked “is the prospect of a future deal causing this Government to treat China with leniency it does not deserve?

  • Stephen Kinnock (Labour) askedthe Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what steps the Government is taking to ensure that Taiwan can viably access an alternative source of covid-19 vaccine supply to that being offered by the Chinese Government.”

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Spotted

London finally has a new Chinese Ambassador in residence. The arrival of His Excellency Zheng Zeguang was announced on Monday evening alongside a six minute video in which the Ambassador set out his vision for new UK-China relations. His speech can be read in full here:

It is essential that our two sides follow through on the important common understandings between our leaders, and respect each other's core interests and major concerns. Our two sides may deepen cooperation in trade, finance, innovation, people-to-people exchanges and other fields, and step up coordination on global issues such as fighting COVID-19, spurring global recovery and tackling climate change. We also need to address our differences properly.

On the same day, the UK announced it had chosen a new Consul General in Hong Kong. Read the Government’s biography of Brian Davidson CMG here.

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Politics

G7, supply chains, boycotts, trade, Hong Kong

Policy galore down by the shore

Few gatherings excite British foreign policy wonks more than the G7. The annual get-together of the leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States tends to produce a wide range of geopolitical and geo-economical policy and statements; this year was no different. Rumours swirl around the Cornish coast that the Communique set to be released this week is heavily China focussed.

Let’s set the scene for what we know so far. Overnight on Thursday, Boris Johnson published an article setting out his agenda for the gathering. It noted:

And we will go further in strengthening the political and economic ties between us, relaunching the G7 as a means of expressing the values that unite us: openness, freedom, democracy and free trade.

Britain has the biggest defence budget in Europe, making us central to this effort. We are contributing more troops than any other country to Nato’s deployment in Poland and the Baltic states. We have committed our nuclear deterrent and our cybercapabilities to the alliance. Britain is doing more to guarantee the security of our continent than any other European power.

Wherever you look — the G7, Nato, the global struggle against COVID — Britain is the “buckle that fastens, the hyphen that joins” everything together, to adopt Walter Bagehot’s phrase. We can do this because of the breadth of our capabilities and friendships.

The UK can at once devise a vaccine against COVID, conduct nearly half of the world’s genomic sequencing of new variants, bring the world’s most powerful leaders to Cornwall, and send an aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific.

That evening, the Prime Minister and President Joe Biden published a ‘New Atlantic Charter and Joint Statement’. These two hefty policy papers reaffirm the pairs’ “commitment to work together to realise our vision for a more peaceful and prosperous future.”

We will skim the New Atlantic Charter first. Compromised of eight commitments and modelled after its predecessor of the same name from 1941, it does not mention China but clearly alludes to Beijing throughout; every one of the eight points corresponds to some issue the Western world has with the PRC.

  1. First, we resolve to defend the principles, values, and institutions of democracy and open societies, which drive our own national strength and our alliances.

  2. Second, we intend to strengthen the institutions, laws, and norms that sustain international co-operation to adapt them to meet the new challenges of the 21st century, and guard against those that would undermine them.

  3. Third, we remain united behind the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

  4. Fourth, we resolve to harness and protect our innovative edge in science and technology to support our shared security and deliver jobs at home; to open new markets; to promote the development and deployment of new standards and technologies to support democratic values

  5. Fifth, we affirm our shared responsibility for maintaining our collective security and international stability and resilience against the full spectrum of modern threats, including cyber threats.

  6. Sixth, we commit to continue building an inclusive, fair, climate-friendly, sustainable, rules-based global economy for the 21st century

  7. Seventh, the world has reached a critical point where it must act urgently and ambitiously to tackle the climate crisis, protect biodiversity, and sustain nature. Our countries will prioritise these issues in all our international action.

  8. Eighth, we recognise the catastrophic impact of health crises, and the global good in strengthening our collective defences against health threats.

Now the more meaty Joint Statement. Take note of the one mention of China as both countries pledge to investigate further the origins of Covid-19. Perhaps easiest to skim if we break it down into the chapter title plus a key quote:

  1. DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, & MULTILATERALISM: “The U.S. and U.K. will continue to make practical efforts to support open societies and democracy across the globe. We will do this by defending media freedom, advancing a free and open internet, combatting corruption, tackling disinformation, protecting civic space, advancing women’s political empowerment, protecting freedom of religion or belief, and promoting human rights of all people.”

  2. DEFENCE & SECURITY: “We commit to enhance further the world’s strongest bilateral defence, security, and intelligence partnership to overcome the evolving threats of the twenty-first century. This includes threats and challenges associated with: cyberspace, foreign interference, harmful influence campaigns, illicit finance, violent conflict and extremism, and terrorism in all its forms.”

  3. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: “We will strengthen cooperation in areas such as: ensuring the diversity, resilience and security of our critical supply chains; enabling our industries and research institutions to develop and apply existing and emerging technologies such as AI, quantum, and battery technologies; and reducing barriers to the accessibility and flow of data to support economic growth, public safety and scientific & technological progress.”

  4. TRADE & PROSPERITY: “Both countries recognise that trade, when done right, can support our mutual interest in sustainable and green growth, good jobs for our workers, new opportunities for our innovators and businesses, and high labour and environmental standards.”

  5. CLIMATE & NATURE: “Together we will work to: rally all countries to strengthen their climate ambitions; achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement; keep within reach the goal of limiting global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels; and bend the curve of biodiversity loss by 2030.”

  6. HEALTH: “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future.

  7. COMMITMENT TO NORTHERN IRELAND: “Today, the U.K. and U.S. reaffirm their commitment to working closely with all parties to the Agreement to protect its delicate balance and realise its vision for reconciliation, consent, equality, respect for rights, and parity of esteem.”

On Saturday, a direct challenger to China’s Belt and Road Initiative was announced. Named the Build Back Better World (B3W) Partnership, this promises to be “a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies to help narrow the $40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” From the Whitehouse factsheet:

Through B3W, the G7 and other like-minded partners with coordinate in mobilizing private-sector capital in four areas of focus—climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality—with catalytic investments from our respective development finance institutions.

B3W will be global in scope, from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa to the Indo-Pacific. Different G7 partners will have different geographic orientations, but the sum of the initiative will cover low- and middle-income countries across the world. 

In announcing this partnership, the United States and its G7 partners are expressing a unified vision for global infrastructure development. As a lead partner in B3W, the United States will seek to mobilize the full potential of our development finance tools, including the Development Finance Corporation, USAID, EXIM, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and complementary bodies such as the Transaction Advisory Fund. In doing so, the Biden Administration aims to complement domestic infrastructure investments in the American Jobs Plan and create new opportunities to demonstrate U.S. competitiveness abroad and create jobs at home.

In addition to the billions of dollars which the United States mobilizes in overseas infrastructure financing through existing bilateral and multilateral tools, we will work with Congress to augment our development finance toolkit with the hope that, together with the private sector, other U.S. stakeholders, and G7 partners, B3W will collectively catalyze hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years.

Exciting stuff for your writer, but clearly lots to digest here. How will this be funded? How will deal with each G7 member having a different area of geopolitical focus along the BRI? As stated earlier, the official Communique next week should contain more details. The Financial Times has a good piece here.

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D-, please try harder next time

On Thursday, the Government received a solid wrapping across the knuckles from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee. As readers may remember, this influential Committee had conducted and then published recommendations following an inquiry into forced labour in UK supply chains with a particular focus on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

After the report was published on 17 March this year, Nusrat Ghani, the MP who had spearheaded the inquiry was sanctioned alongside four other MPs by the PRC. Supply chains have rarely left the news since, with a particular focus recently being on the role Xinjiang plays in supplying the world’s solar panels. Various commentators, analysts and advisors have been discussing what measures are needed to move supply chains out of the region and the Biden Administration has toyed with the idea of sanctioning Xinjiang solar produce too.

Back to the nitty gritty. The Government has two months to respond to a Committee report. This meant that technically a response was due 17 May; in reality, a Committee usually gets eyes on the Government response and can then choose if it wants to just publish it, or to respond and then publish, which is what happened here.

To cut a long story short, the BEIS Committee was heavily critical of the Government’s response.

In a statement, Ghani said:

“The Government’s response to the BEIS Committee’s forced labour report is deeply disheartening. Given the horrifying evidence of abuses, it beggars belief the Government is dragging its feet in bringing forward the tough action needed to help to tackle the exploitation of forced labour in Xinjiang.

“The BEIS Committee’s original report [in March] brought forward a series of practical recommendations to ensure every effort is made to stamp out profiteering from these abuses. There continues to be a disturbing lack of coherence and urgency in the Business department’s work on forced labour. The Government’s response fails to provide reassurance to customers that they aren’t contributing to supply chains tainted by modern slavery and lets down British businesses who are trying to do the right thing and ensure their supply chains don’t profit from forced labour. At the very least you would expect the Government to ensure that its procurement process is free of slave labour and I will push for a Uyghur genocide Government Procurement black-list.

“I urge the Government to think again, revisit the report's recommendations, and give these serious matters the prominence they deserve.”

The Government’s response can be viewed here - make time to read the Committee’s response to their response here.

The reality is this; Government strategy towards China is fractured across Departments and incoherent to everyone outside of Downing Street. One veteran observer notes that UK Government pays lip service to criticism of the PRC, but takes no action that risks business or long term relations.

As if to hammer home this point, the day before the report was published, Graham Stuart, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Trade, told a House of Lords committee that “China offers more opportunity to the UK economy than any other market”

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No-lympics

In January this year your writer cracked open a few Tsingtao and penned a list of predictions for UK-China relations over the next 12 months. Chief amongst them was the view that MPs would call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics, due to be held in Beijing in 2022. We noted:

While it would be extremely unlikely that the top tier of Government would think about not attending the Games, it seems probable that it will become a sticking point, and one painted by some members of Westminster as pandering to the Chinese regime.

This week, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) launched its official campaign to pressure Governments and politicians to boycott the event. The Group noted:

“The Olympic Games are an opportunity for people across the world to unite in a shared celebration of sport, friendship and solidarity – a celebration which should transcend national and political divides. 

We, the Co-Chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, are of the shared belief that this cannot be reconciled with holding the Games in a country whose government stands credibly accused of perpetrating atrocity crimes against its own population. To do so discredits the ethos of the Olympic movement and undermines its purpose.”

Action on the UK front may take the form of a Backbench Business Committee debate on the UK’s representation at the Beijing Olympics, submitted by Tim Loughton MP, alongside a cross-party Early Day Motion calling for UK officials to boycott the games tabled by MPs Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Siobhain McDonagh and Alistair Carmichael. Keep an eye on this - our guess is that we may see a commercial boycott of the Olympics rather than a diplomatic one.

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That’s not fair

Just a quick one. During a debate on Unfair Trading Practises, Dr Keiran Mullan MP (IPAC member) asked the Department for International Trade:

With nine out of 10 of the largest Chinese firms being state-owned enterprises, it is clear that the international rulebook is not keeping up with the latest players’ tactics. I do not want to see—I do not think anyone here wants to see—British businesses undercut. Will the Minister elaborate on what more we can do, working with like-minded allies in the WTO and the G7, to tackle these unfair practices?

A DfIT official responded:

My hon. Friend is right that global trading rules have not adapted to take account of China’s growth or its different economic model, so Britain cannot, and will not, allow her businesses to be damaged or undercut by those who do not play by the rules, such as through the non-transparent granting of different forms of industrial subsidies. We will work with like-minded partners at the G7, the G20, the WTO and elsewhere to address the harmful impacts of these unfair practices.

We suspect there will be many more questions on this theme of unfair state subsidies or ownership.

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Hong Kong

As if this week wasn’t busy enough, the FCDO released its biannual assessment of that state of play in Hong Kong. Coming in at 35 pages, it includes a foreword from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who notes:

This period has been defined by a pattern of behaviour by Beijing intended to crush dissent and suppress the expression of alternative political views in Hong Kong. China has broken its legal obligations by undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms, which are guaranteed under the Joint Declaration. We have seen three clear breaches of the Joint Declaration in the last year (two breaches during the July-December reporting period and one which has happened since then). We have therefore now declared China to be in a state of ongoing noncompliance with the Joint Declaration.

The National Security Law is not being used for its original purpose, as stated by Beijing, to target just “a tiny number of criminals who seriously endanger national security”. Rather it has been used to drastically curtail the space for the expression of alternative political views and deter freedom of expression and legitimate political debate. We are now seeing the effects of a law with loosely defined provisions, backed up with the threat of potentially long jail sentences and transfer of cases to mainland China for prosecution and sentencing.

The law is being used to stifle political opposition, as we saw in the arrests of 55 prodemocracy politicians and activists for their alleged roles in the Legislative Council primaries. 47 went on to be prosecuted, with their trials ongoing. Confidence in the rule of law will be undermined if there are further politicised prosecution decisions.

Still no suggestion that we will be seeing sanctions against any Hong Kong officials soon. The report produced an angry response from the newly arrived Chinese Ambassador in London, which can be read in full here.

Separately, the Lib Dems continued to push for sanctions on Hong Kong officials.


Odds and ends

  • Members of Scotland’s biggest teaching union have demanded an investigation into Chinese government funding for teaching Mandarin in schools. A branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) claims Beijing-funded education in Scottish schools is “inappropriate given the human rights record of the Chinese government”. Confucius Institutes are the target; naturally there is no discussion as to how Scotland plans to teach Mandarin to its pupils if they are removed. (The Times)

  • House of Commons defence committee chairman Tobias Ellwood has warned that the outbreak of Covid-19 could be copied by rogue states. (Express)

  • The Educational Institute of Scotland’s annual general meeting overwhelmingly backed an investigation into the funding and influence of Confucius Institutes in Scottish schools on Friday. (The Times)

  • Britain’s Ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, has been busy this week. Check through her Twitter account to see the latest. (Twitter)

  • Congratulations to those operating in the UK-China sphere who feature in the Queen’s Birthday Honours (GOV)

  • Boris Johnson’s China balancing act faces test as G7 comes to town (SCMP)

  • Worth reading James Forsyth in the Spectator on the G7. (Spectator)

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Spotted

Ugly accusations from Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) Ian Paisley Jr during a Westminster Hall debate on human rights in Hong Kong (more on that below). He said:

Even friends of Beijing—there may be some MPs who are attending this debate or watching it who are openly or secretly friends of Beijing—are vulnerable because they have spoken about, participated in or associated themselves with the seditious practice that article 38 of the national security law brings about. As an officer of the APPG on Hong Kong, I certainly would not expect to go to Hong Kong anytime soon; neither should any hon. Member attending the debate.

Red scare taking hold?

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Business

New sanctions law, bending the facts, deal breaker

New sanctions law

Frequent readers of the South China Morning Post may have had their phone battery drained this week by the bombardment of notifications concerning China passing a new anti-sanctions law at the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. Although details of the law have yet to be released (harking back to the halcyon days of Beijing pushing through the National Security Law), several key themes appear to have emerged.

Having read various state media offerings, here’s our understanding. The new law will allow China to have a legal basis to respond to (Western) sanctions. It will mean that Chinese companies hit by sanctions will be able to claim compensation in mainland courts from foreign entities deemed to have aided and abetted those sanctions.

What are the experts saying? The SCMP helpfully rounded up a couple.

Chen Zhu, a Hong Kong-based partner at international law firm Morrison & Foerster:

“We’ve been working with clients – particularly companies from ‘third countries’ outside China and the US – to evaluate the risks the new law poses to their operations in China as well as their dealings with Chinese counterparts all over the world,” Chen said.

“For now, many companies are still taking a wait-and-see approach, but that could change soon as foreign sanctions led by the US expand to more companies and more sectors.”

Chen said the new law – if consistent with the commerce ministry’s blocking statute – “would not have a retroactive effect”, meaning a Chinese entity would be unlikely to be able to claim for economic damages resulting from another entity’s past compliance with foreign sanctions.

“It’s important to note that there would not be an automatic, blanket prohibition against all compliance with foreign sanctions in China. An innovative feature of the new law [if it’s in line with the January rules] is that Chinese authorities will be issuing orders to block foreign sanctions on a case-by-case basis,” Chen said.

“This gives the Chinese authorities great flexibility to decide, at any time, which particular Chinese individuals, companies or sectors will be protected, and which particular foreign sanctions will be blocked.”

Huang Feng, a law professor at Beijing Normal University:

“This new law will free these companies from Western sanctions as it will provide them with a clear legal justification so that when they apply for an exemption from the US government, they can clearly state that they need to comply with the Chinese law,” Huang said.

“Currently, we lack the legal basis when we announce countermeasures against Western sanctions. Those are just empty words when they are not backed by law.”

Adam Ni, director of the Canberra-based China Policy Centre:

Said that while the law was largely symbolic, it would create disincentives for anyone involved in implementing sanctions. These parties, including import and export companies, financiers and other intermediaries, such as technology companies, would now find themselves in “a tough spot”.

“If you don’t carry out these sanctions, then potentially you are in trouble with the US,” he said. “But if you do, potentially you’ll come under pressure from Beijing. Each company would have to weigh up their own costs and benefits.

“Both in the rhetorical landscape as well as material incentive, it is becoming difficult for these companies because they get caught in the crossfire.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University:

Said the threat of Chinese countersanctions could make certain governments have “second thoughts” about taking action against China.

But Shi said foreign businesses in China also needed to be clear about any potential involvement with foreign sanctions.

“Business activities are very complex and the industrial chain is very complex and if they have taken part in foreign sanctions to any degree, they cannot rule out the fact that they may face some repercussions,” he said.

Henry Gao, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University:

Said the law would “greatly add teeth” to China’s previous legislation because two measures – the Chinese government’s unreliable entity list for foreign businesses last September and its blocking statute – were both “departmental rules which are much lower in the legislative hierarchy”.

This is an excellent Twitter thread breaking it down further.

And here’s Global Times Editor in Chief Hu Xijin’s view.

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It ain’t that simple

A little rewriting of history took place during a Westminster Hall debate on human rights in Hong Kong on Wednesday. HSBC and Standard Chartered were slammed throughout.

First, Ian Paisly Jr:

I call on the Government in China to fulfil the Sino-British joint declaration on freedom and the rule of law. I challenge HSBC, as others no doubt will in the debate, not to do the dirty work of Beijing, clamping down on people for making a living and having their rights.

Then, IPAC member and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) Alistair Carmichael:

Secondly, I would like to hear more from Government about what we are saying to financial institutions, such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, that have come out in support of the national security law. That we allow them to continue to operate as normal in this country seems to contradict what we say of our intentions towards Hong Kong. It has been reported that there have been no fewer than 16 private meetings between the Treasury and those two banks in the six months from July to December 2020. What was said at those meetings, and why are we still engaging on a business-as-usual basis?

And Alyn Smith, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office):

The financial assets and business dealings of a number of UK companies need more scrutiny, in particular the actions of the banks and, in that case, especially Standard Chartered and HSBC, which have on occasion acted on behalf of the authorities under very dubious legality.

Finally Labour’s Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Minister Stephen Kinnock:

Will the UK Government join the Opposition in taking a clear and principled position? We also need to see action on banks such as HSBC, which, as hon. Members have said, appear to be doing the dirty work of the Chinese Government.

Towards the end of a wide-ranging discussion, right hand man to Jeremy Corbyn and former shadow Chancellor John McDonnell name-checked Swires and Jardines to complete the affair:

I have listened to the other speeches, and of course I support the calls for Magnitsky sanctions and the accommodation of younger BNO passport holders born after 1997. I also agree with those who have pointed out the role that British companies are playing, and we have to address this matter. They lobbied the Prime Minister to try to get him to tone down the Government’s criticisms. Swire, the company that owns Cathay Pacific, led the way in sacking staff who supported the democracy movement. We know about HSBC and Standard Chartered bank, of course, but what about Jardine Matheson? They supported the national security law, and—I say this to colleagues in other parties—they were also Tory donors. We have a duty to call out UK corporations who are the sponsors of the Chinese regime’s repression in Hong Kong.

This seems to be a somewhat simplistic version of events. Most people would acknowledge that all companies operating in Hong Kong were caught up in a situation beyond their control and were placed in a very difficult position as standoff between protesters and the Government continued.

On a different note, the Telegraph picked up on Peter Wong, “the banker who led … support for a controversial security crackdown in Hong Kong” being promoted at HSBC. Elsewhere, there’s been movement at the top of Swires, with the news that Merlin Swire will be stepping down as chairman of Swire Pacific and Swire Properties in August.

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Universities and Chinese ties

At the beginning of the week, the China Research Group released a slew of new data concerning British universities and their ties to Chinese companies. Obtained using Freedom of Information Requests (FOI), their research found that twenty leading UK universities have collectively accepted more than £40 million in funding from Huawei and state-owned Chinese companies in recent years.

Interesting point raised by Peter Manning OBE (awarded the OBE in 2019 for services to UK/China business development.)

This is a line of thinking worth discussing, but also misses a key point; these links, worth £40 million, had to be obtained under FOI. Transparency all round would be the preferable option.

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Odds and ends

  • Writing for Quartz, Belle Timsit dissects the latest European Chamber of Commerce in China survey which finds that its members have no intention of decoupling from China. (Quartz)

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Spotted

Stephen Flynn, Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, making a repeated point in the context of a debate on the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) Bill. Flynn said:

We do not know what it will seek to invest in, where it may even take a share in an organisation. It will have the freedom to do that, but that freedom means it may delve into areas we find unsuitable in relation to human rights. That is particularly pertinent when we look at the situation in China with the Uyghurs.

Indeed, this may be a familiar concern to readers, as we noted in a Briefing a couple of weeks ago:

A scenario overlooked in this hypothetical situation is if ARIA invests in a company now that later goes on to be viewed as unethical or contravene human rights. For example, should ARIA invest in cutting edge technology in solar power, it may well end up being caught in a supply chain leading back to Xinjiang.

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Society

The great (outer)space race

“For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.."

Carl Sagan’s musings on our species’ intense desire to launch itself into the great unknown has inspired a generation of scientists, engineers and leaders. This week, China released (see above) its first pictures of Mars taken by Zhurong, the country's first martian rover, and gears up to send three astronauts to its orbiting space station in the coming days.

The potential for collaboration in space exploration between Western powers and China still exists just beyond the horizon. The China National Space Administration had an annual budget of about $8.9bn last year, still a long way behind Nasa’s (of around $23bn). As the Week notes:

“Space is already an arena of great power competition,” Lloyd J. Austin III, the new US secretary of defence, declared recently. Satellite networks are used to keep military information systems running; both the US and China have the capacity to knock out enemy satellites in the event of a conflict. The situation is made more complex because most space technologies are “dual-use”: they can be used to perform civilian or military tasks.

Understanding China’s aims is made difficult by the country’s opaque policy-making apparatus, and by President Xi’s “military-civil fusion development strategy”, which purposely blurs the lines between military and civilian technology development on everything from semiconductors and 5G to aerospace and AI.

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Reading list

What we learned from this week