fredag 17. februar 2023

Competitor or adversary? West struggles to define relationship with Beijing

If you want to solve a problem, it helps to be able to define it, but when it comes to a problem like China, western leaders have been struggling to find the right words. Liz Truss sought to designate China as a “threat” to Britain, but did not stay prime minister long enough for that to become established policy. Her successor, Rishi Sunak, has opted for the less combative “systemic challenge” but he is under pressure from backbench MPs to follow Truss’s path and call Beijing a “strategic threat”.

Sunak has made clear he does not want the UK to be out of step with its allies on the issue, most importantly the US. In Washington, meanwhile, China designation is a delicate and evolving art. The delicacy was apparent when a Chinese balloon sailed over the continental US earlier this month. The US declared the high-altitude airship and its payload to be designed for spying and shot it down once it was safely over the Atlantic. The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, cancelled a long-planned trip to Beijing to address bilateral tensions, but at the same time stressed that channels of communication would be kept open and that the US remained keen on a meeting when conditions allowed. Blinken may meet his counterpart, Wang Yi, as soon as this week, at the Munich security conference.