Britain prides itself on being the fatherland of Magna Carta (the Great Charter of the Liberties), which was proclaimed there 900 years ago and became England’s first unwritten constitution. Traditionally, British values are considered a paragon for the whole world.
However, over the past three weeks Britain’s prestige as the country of human rights and the rule of law suffered a blow. This short period saw official visits of leaders in whose countries those very human rights are violated. From October 25 to November 5, Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Cameron offered a pompous reception to the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, and Egypt.
Moreover, China’s Xi Jinping was honored with speaking to both houses of parliament. He also visited the prime minister’s countryside residence. And that at a time, resent British media, when China sees the biggest persecutions of political dissenters in decades. Yet not a word about human rights was said in both leaders’ joint declaration. Instead, the “golden age” of China-UK relations was proclaimed, alongside with the development of a “global comprehensive partnership for the 21st century.”
Now the first fruit of such new special relationship appeared with the announcement of a Chinese firm investing 9 billion US dollars into a new British atomic power station Hinkley Point. During the four-day-long visit, the parties signed deals with total worth of more than 30 billion pounds. The Daily Mail writes that nothing during the visit indicated that the “golden age” should have room for democratic values, which Britain used to defend. “It looks like gold is enough for Cameron,” summarizes the paper.
Numerous critics have accused the British government of making up to Beijing. In particular, Edward LUCAS, Senior Vice President at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), said to The Day: “Britain should be ashamed of its kowtow. We have abandoned the millions of Chinese who believe in democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and betrayed the suffering Tibetans. Instead we are going for short-term gain by doing business with the Communist dictatorship of the ailing Chinese economy.”
The seemingly “new” mercantilist approach of Chancellor George Osborne is deeply embedded in historical traditions of British foreign policy-making, and has run parallel and sometimes counter to Britain’s values-oriented foreign policy. Long before Henry Kissinger said it, Lord Palmerston claimed that Britain had no “permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” Britain has always viewed trade as one of these permanent interests, since power is derived from economic standing, writes The Diplomat.
The magazine considers it naive if not dangerous that Osborne is willing to open certain critical sectors of national economy to Chinese investment. The more so that the US, Britain’s ally, has been recently raising questions of cyber security and maritime security in the Pacific during talks with China’s leaders.
The image of Prime Minister Cameron kowtowing to the Chinese president evokes Britain’s first diplomatic mission to China in 1793, when Lord Macartney traveled to meet the Qianlong Emperor in Peking. His attempt to open trade between the two empires ended in failure as the two held incompatible worldviews and practiced incompatible diplomatic cultures. Seeing President Xi and his wife dressed in Western clothes, in front of a trade delegation to Britain would seem to indicate that two states understand each much better now. However, Cameron’s willingness to trade British principles for investment and significant concessions and market access show that London is no closer to understanding Beijing than it was 250 years ago, writes The Diplomat.
The red carpet was also rolled out in London before the 75-year-old leader of Kazakhstan, who, too, enjoyed a warm welcome and honors together with his daughter and likely successor Dariga. Nursultan Nazarbayev is accused of human rights violations and rigging the voting in the presidential election last April. This time, Cameron’s cringing is accounted for by the fact that Kazakhstan boasts of immense natural resources, in particular, oil and rare metals. Britain’s prime minister, perfectly aware of the opportunities that presented themselves during the talks on November 3, signed 40 trade deals with the Kazakh leader with total worth of three billion pounds. Later he jokingly remarked that “it was not bad, for half a day’s work.”
However, British media voice their doubts and remind that Prince Andrew visited Kazakhstan seven times to promote British interests. The media also remind that in 2007 Andrew controversially sold his former marital home Sunninghill Park – a wedding present from the Queen – for 15 million pounds, 3 million above the asking price, to President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law Timur Kulibayev. It has never been explained why it happened.
Human right advocates urged Cameron to rise the questions of abovementioned violations in a meeting with Nazarbayev. They reminded that, despite Tony Blair’s consultancy winning a two year’s contract (advice on political reform) worth 16 million pounds, Kazakhstan’s human rights situation has aggravated.
By the way, this was not Nazarbayev’s first visit to the Buckingham Palace. In 2000, Elizabeth II awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. He also had an audience with the monarch in 2006.
However, it was the British visit of Egypt’s President Abdel al-Sisi that turned out most controversial. In this case, Cameron was criticized not only by the Labor, but by the Tory camp as well. Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs committee, said that “no one should be in any doubt about the price Egypt has paid for President al-Sisi’s crackdown on dissent in his bid to bring stability to the country.” That is why it is absolutely inappropriate to roll out the red carpet for this leader.
Observers remark that al-Sisi’s visit comes amid revelations that Britain has been ramping up its arms sales to Egypt’s military dictatorship in recent years. In the first quarter of 2015 alone, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills granted almost 50 million pounds worth of licenses for military equipment, while past year this figure was a modest 1.6 million.
Also in this case the Cameron government’s mercantilist interest is obvious. For the sake of benefits from selling weapons to the Egyptian regime, it turns a blind eye to the massive violations of human rights in that country, mass arrests of journalists, and the executions of dissenters.