We are living in the age of political over-reaction. In 2018, Tommy Robinson getting thrown in jail for breaking his parole, by jeopardising a rape trial, makes him a “martyr for free speech”. Boris Johnson refusing to give anything away on a hoax call makes him a bumbling idiot who is compromising our security. In 2018, Kanye “has plans” to run for President because of a few political tweets. Brexit is the end of the world, and I, a twenty-one-year-old student, got added to a list of “right-wing con artists”.
So it’s something of a surprise that David Cameron’s appointment as the vice-chairman of the UK-China Fund wasn’t proclaimed to be yet more evidence of the Tory conspiracy at the heart of Britain. In fact, far from being called another triumph of the lizard people, most ordinary taxpayers barely realised.
That could be because the appointment will prove to be entirely inconsequential, in which case I’ll have made a big deal about nothing — but UnHerd said that “being Prime Minister could prove to be only David Cameron’s second most important job.” I wouldn’t go that far, certainly, but I think it’s certainly worth considering the role he could have to play in a relationship that could become increasingly important.
The Chinese government is currently in the midst of a global infrastructure project. Dubbed the Belt and Road initiative, this is the main part of Xi Jinping’s dream for his Presidency. Spanning Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and more; the project will see $1 trillion pumped into infrastructure projects involving 65 nations.
It’s colossal. By contrast, the Marshall Plan which saw America rebuild Europe post-WW2 cost around $150 billion. One Belt, One Road is an investment on a whole new scale.
But, like any major infrastructure project — brace yourselves — the government is running over-budget. Some projections are hitting $8 trillion. According to Bruno Maçães, China is feeling increasingly unable to provide the funds with its economy beginning to slow down. But Xi Jinping is not a man to be dissuaded by tiny hurdles like that, and commentators suggest that Xi will be unlikely to allow his centre-stage moment to crumble.
As a result, China needs to access global financial markets. The UK — eager to prove we aren’t facing inwards post-Brexit — doesn’t carry the same baggage as collaborating with the US would. The European Union is fraught with difficulties due to German hostility to China dominating the markets. Post-Brexit, the UK and China have the same agenda. To go out into the world with confidence.
London is the financial centre of the world, and not only do infrastructure projects feed into international feelings of goodwill and foster some much-needed diplomatic relations, but improving infrastructure (with conditions attached) is a sure-fire way to grow trade relationships and make them wildly more effective. Improving physical transport links across the world can get consumers a cheaper deal, quicker.
There is a financial burden to bear. Becoming a junior partner on the Belt and Road initiative isn’t going to solve all of Britain’s issues, and conditions would need to be attached to ensure a return. The current UK-China Fund is only £1 billion.
But it’s certainly something to think about. At the very least, it’s something to distract from the maddening domestic scene.