Opinion | Great Britain, Great No More
Once the empire on which the sun never set, Britain is now a shadow of its former imperial glory. Whatever vestiges of influence there are have been wiped off by Brexit. While French and Irish ports are a beehive of activity, British ports are forlorn-looking places. Brexit has reshuffled the economic cards. Britain’s global footprint has shrunk sharply. Even the Commonwealth is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Turning inward, Britain has lost the ability to make friends and influence people. It has only one trick up its sleeve: follow America. If America is anti-Russia, then so is Britain. And if America antagonizes China, then so does Britain. But the truth is, this “follow America” policy has led Britain into nothing but disaster, most notably in Tony Blair’s diabolical decision to join America’s military misadventure in Iraq on the infamously non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”. Blair has lost all his credibility, becoming an instant international pariah, with his hands dripping with the blood of a million dead Iraqis. So much for the so-called special relationship.
Britain hasn’t learned its lesson. Not too long ago, Britain was enjoying the economic dividends of a honeymoon with China under Theresa May and David Cameron. But now, after Boris and now Sunak, the two countries are just trading insults and threats.
Now and then, the dreams of the former imperial glory hang over No.10. For its occupants, imperial glory comes with war, as in the Falklands. But Boris dispatching the newest aircraft carrier to the distant South China Sea is a laughable act of imperial saber-rattling.
Britain’s excuse for doing so is that China has trampled on the rights of residents in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and is threatening to take over Taiwan by force. In case you forget, all three places are Chinese territories, and hence China’s internal affairs. Britain has no right to poke its nose there. Hong Kong might have once been British-occupied, but the mess created there is the dirty work of activists who have exploited a high degree of autonomy for a high degree of anarchy—just like the rioters in the January 6 insurrection, except the Capitol riots lasted one day, but our city’s riots raged for nearly 10 months. No country, least of all Britain, would tolerate such prolonged violent lawless paralysis. You are punishing the victim but not the perpetrators.
America is bristling with 750 military bases around the world, with 313 in Asia alone, including nine in the Philippines. How can China be a threat with its sprinkling of a few bases in its own sphere of influence? Who is a threat to whom? The numbers tell the story. For the past 70 years, except border skirmishes with the former Soviet Union, India and Vietnam, where its own territorial integrity was threatened, China had kept its nose clean. As for Taiwan, there was cross-strait peace with the 1992 consensus until America upsets the applecart, as it tries to fish in troubled waters. It is going all-out to provoke both sides into conflict. America can’t profit if it lets sleeping dogs lie.
Britain is following America into trouble spots where it has no business to be. By jumping on the US bandwagon, it is behaving like an American satellite state. In the meantime, its economy withers and suffers. Trade with China, the world’s second largest economy, is dwindling. Its technology embargo against the middle kingdom is an act of economic self-harm.
Ironically, America the aggressor has become the accuser. It is the clearest case of a poacher turned gamekeeper. And the UK is aiding and abetting an immoral crusade by a power-intoxicated overlord. Already, there are serious side-effects of an arms race in Asia, with India, Japan and Korea trying to outdo each other in military build-up. The skies are looming with fighter jets and spy-planes.
Unless Britain U-turns, it will continue to shrink in size and influence, with Scotland and Wales itching to leave the union. Brexit has brought them nothing but economic and political pain, curtailing freedom of movement of goods and people. There are few dividends in war, as Ukraine shows. With Brexit, the EU has bypassed Britain. With the toxic Anglo-American alliance, China too is bypassing Britain. Its Brexit-induced pain is compounded by its anti-China hysteria. Riding on America’s coattails comes at a price, as the US keeps upsetting the global order. If you can’t be great, at least be quiet. Britain no longer looks like the future, as it chases an irrelevant past. Britain’s loss is EU’s gain. But conversely, America’s gain is Britain’s loss. And why should we feel sorry, if Britain doesn’t know the difference?