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Opinion | The British McCarthyist wave

By Tom Fowdy

On Monday morning the London Metropolitan Police announced the charging of three men under the "National Security Act of 2023" under the accusations that they had "assisted a foreign intelligence service". One of them was a White British man, while two others had Cantonese surnames with it soon turning out that these individuals were affiliated with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London. It is, of course, a significant irony, that the UK is using national security legislation to arrest people on charges of foreign collusion while nonetheless seeking to deny Hong Kong itself that same right.

More significantly, however, it is my observation that within the past month or so, the climate of political McCarthyism in the United Kingdom has amplified significantly, and that the political debate on China is starting to become unhinged in a similar manner as seen in the United States. In this period, there has been a wide range of allegations pushed from the government level and laundered by the mainstream media, including various hacks pertaining to the UK electoral register and the Ministry of Defence, as well as the arrest and charging of others on allegations of espionage.

Moreover, the British media has gone into overdrive with the sheer amount of paranoid drivel it publishes on China. The Telegraph, just to name one, publishes unhinged op-eds about China on an almost daily basis, many of which actively proclaim Beijing is in a state of war with the West. Meanwhile, the most deranged politicians, such as the IPAC (US & Taiwan funded) Iain Duncan Smith single-handedly dominated the debate on Beijing, demanding it be called a threat every single day. The sudden shift in paradigm with the UK reminds of me when it occurred in 2020 with the covid blame game, which for me was also a huge shock to the system.

I have several theories on why it is happening. First, the hawks have the ascendency even despite Rishi Sunak's bid to have moderated relations. On a global scale, the Israel-Gaza war, and Tel Aviv's subsequent decision to go after Iran in April and provoke a reaction, appeared to be a turning point the world over which empowered NeoConservative policy shifts, notably demonstrated through US House Speaker Michael Johnson's sudden U-turn into a self-proclaimed "Reagan Republican." This wider narrative of "democracy being under threat" was further consolidated by Ukraine's setbacks against Russia, hence NeoConservative foreign policy approaches in general always benefit from a reactionary sense of alarm.

Second, is the large-scale domestic unpopularity of the Rishi Sunak government, which is in its dying days with an unavoidable election losing. The Conservatives are set to face an enormous defeat against Labour, with their credibility having cratered due to a series of misgivings and scandals over the past two years, as well as an abysmal economic climate. Rishi Sunak has increasingly attempted to ponder to right-wing populist instincts in order to try and save his appeal, at the expense of serious policymaking, which is leading to hardline policies across the board on matters such as immigration, and thus subsequently pandering to China hawks in order to salvage support in his party as MPs increasingly defect to Labour, which is also why the vocal presence of these right-wing disruptors like Iain Duncan Smith have increased.

In turn, it is also the strategy of British Conservative politicians to use conflict as a political tool to salvage themselves. Margaret Thatcher, after all, was the most unpopular Prime Minister of all time due to her economic vandalism, until she capitalized on the Falklands and got re-elected with a landslide. However, it goes without saying this is not happening with Rishi Sunak as he lacks the confrontational opportunism and risk taking of Margaret Thatcher to do anything extreme. However, it remains true that the UK has become very, very hawkish on Russia and is the number one cheerleader of the conflict, and has subsequently become more hawkish on China, as he attempts to salvage support. Despite this, it won't save him because he isn't up against a left-wing "Anti-war" opposition for that patriotic rallying effect to work, with Keir Starmer's Labour being just as hawkish.

In summary, a wide range of geopolitical and domestic factors are driving the UK government towards intensifying Anti-China hysteria, backed by new legislative tools that were designed especially for this purpose. Thus, we are seeing rampant McCarthyism pushed by the media and an acceleration of arrests that are to some extent, politically motivated. After all, we should consider that the term "espionage" is an ambiguous one beyond the aspect of "official secrets" which shifts according to a political paradigm. Would you, for example, see agents of the CIA or Mossad in the UK arrested on the charges of "assisting a foreign intelligence agency?" and if not, why? Finally, as noted in the beginning, this makes ironic reading for a country so steadfastly opposed to "arbitrary national security laws" doesn't it?


The author is a well-seasoned writer and analyst with a large portfolio related to China topics, especially in the field of politics, international relations and more. He graduated with an Msc. in Chinese Studies from Oxford University in 2018.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by Tom Fowdy:

Opinion | The British Saboteur

Opinion | The struggle for Europe's future

Opinion | America & Hong Kong, a double standard in campus occupations

Opinion | The US is destroying the credibility of the International Criminal Court (ICC)


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