27 Jun 2011

Are the curtains of Number 10 safe from China's Mr Wen?

I think I was 8 years old. I had been taken by my parents to a brand new suburb called Crawley New Town. It was 1956 – and we lived in the depths of the Sussex countryside. But not so deep as to prevent a 45 minute run to what I then found to be a rude awakening to Britain’s suburban future.

But my Dad was not simply anxious to introduce his boy to this endless succession of brick “semis”, but to the leaders of the Soviet empire. Khrushchev and Bulganin were legends in their own somewhat oppressive lunchtimes. I knew the Russians were the new enemy. The Daily Express – the only paper I saw at school – told me so. But for some reason my deeply conservative father wanted me to set eyes upon the communist “enemy”.

When I did so that morning, they looked exceptionally boring. Two old, slightly overweight guys in ill-fitting double breasted suits. They looked like unsuccessful gangsters.

Why do I suddenly conjure this uninteresting memory? More than fifty years on, another communist, another time. Now my “enemy” is my friend. No time for Crawley New Town. This time it’s Longbridge and beyond. China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao lands in Birmingham, not at the once spanking new Gatwick.

Mr Wen is here to buy, not to sell. The old Ruskies thought they were stealing a propaganda march on “Super Mac” Macmillan. Mr Wen needs no such propaganda coup. He’s only here to remind us who is now boss – of much more than Longbridge’s once imperial production line. What greater emblem than that he should control the MG production line – a car once more British that the British.

And yet, it seems we have more influence over Mr Wen’s treatment of his own people, than ever we had on Khrushchev’s. Two hugely prominent, globally renowned, China dissidents, Ai Wei Wei and Hu Jia, have had to be moved from jail to house arrest as if to try to stem potential street protests to the Chinese Premier’s visit. Can these releases really have been “coincidental”? Hu Jia, China‘s most active activist for Aids victims, was bunged inside to prevent embarrassment during the Beijing Olympics.

Read more: China and UK in £1bn trade deals

Is all this mere window dressing? Certainly even as a child I though Wen’s counterparts’ visit was little more. I was assisted by my dad telling me through the rear view mirror, as we rattled along the A23, that communism was a very nasty sport, and that these men might look cuddly but that they wore steel toe caps. These days we don’t discuss Mr Wen’s toe caps. We don’t even discuss his brand of communism. He’s on the up and we are on the down.

Welcome to the new world order! Consolidated this sunny morn, by the intriguing election of the father of Brazil’s food programme to head the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Jose da Silva beat Spain’s former Foreign Minister by 92 votes to 88. The South has finally overwhelmed the North to run one of the UN’s major aid programmes. Will Mexico seize Strauss Kahn’s dented IMF crown against France’s beguiling Finance Minister? Will Mr Wen carry off the curtains from Number Ten?

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15 reader comments

  1. adrian clarke says:

    Interesting the change in the world order of what is now,truly a global market place.For many years that ,that was wholly British has been bought and managed by foreign owners or shipped abroad to be built.
    From steel to cars and even hoovers.Try a BT call centre and its either India or S.Africa,yet the chinese still want to buy British or is it British companies?.Despite the protesters we have to trade with such countries ,or die.
    Yet are we the architects of our own fate?We import coal from abroad because not only is it too dear to mine here but the left wing Unions destroyed the industry losing thousands of jobs in their resistance to change.Other employment moves abroad because we have a potential workforce that finds menial jobs beneath them and expects to start their working life on at least £30,000 a year according to a recent survey.Is it any surprise that companies want to reduce their overheads to survive.Too much red tape and restrictions like health and safety.
    Now Unions once again flexing their weakening muscles and trying to destroy our whole way of life.Perhaps we should sell the country to China and have a few of the destroyers locked up on house arrest.

    1. Philip says:

      As I recall it, this “resistance to change” by the NUM & other mining unions was to proposals by the NCB to close large numbers of pits they deemed uneconomic, backed up by Mrs T’s desire to take on the NUM and win (after the humiliation of the Heath Government losing to them in 1973/4). Yes – we had some appalling unions & even more appalling TU leaders in the 60s & 70s, but most of UK industry was closed down because of poor maangement & the refusal of the state to subsidise them (unlike China & Korea, etc)

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Philip where you are partially correct,as you would be arguing for the current Public service Pensions,the NCB was haemorrhaging money from its unproductive pits,just as the Government is trying to pay an unsustainable pension.
      There had to be change and that resistance to change led to the loss of not only more jobs than need be but also to the virtual complete collapse of the industry.As i said it was led by that great Marxist Arthur Scargill who like todays union leaders did not lose is income like the lemmings he led.

    3. Peter Stewert says:

      “Now Unions once again flexing their weakening muscles and trying to destroy our whole way of life.”
      Anyone advocating an approach along the lines of “my way is the only way and to hell with anyone else” is doing no one any favours except them selves… & not always then. Still 30 years & three decades of falling living standards (unless your were rich to begin with) more than demonstrate that there whatever greed unions have been blamed for was sadly far from exclusive. The unions destroyed nothing otherwise there would be nothing to sell on & sell as out-source. The employing class destroyed the fruit of this countries labours, drinking every last drop and leaving just the inedible pulp.

      And for god sake it is well past time for the nation to give up the knee-jerk habit of spitting on their decadent generations. (Someone has to has to work until they drop-dead to pay for everyone else’s retirement). The only young adults holding out for £30 grand are the one’s waiting for daddy to pull some favours in the city. Given that most children don’t even know an adult pulling in 30K I’d love to know from where such delusions arise.

    4. adrian clarke says:

      What a very narrow view point Peter.The Unions in the seventies were wrecking industries with their wildcat strikes,from steel to newspapers to automobiles.It was only robust action by Margaret Thatcher that despite your protestations heralded a lifting of living standards for nearly thirty years,until once again the country was stupid enough to elect a Labour Party that in the last ten years has dragged us back again.
      Were it not for the fact that the unions other than in the bloated public sector are virtually non existant,we would have no jobs.
      Your statement “The employing class destroyed the fruit of this countries labours, drinking every last drop and leaving just the inedible pulp.”is lamentable rubbish .Were it not for the class you despise there would be no public service for there would be no cash to pay them.
      You also want to read what is written .The £30,000 expectation was quoted in a national survey that was even reported in the left wing Guardian.It was quoted as an expectation of what youngsters leaving education believed they were worth and would get.

    5. Peter Stewert says:

      Well I believe I’m worth about 40K, but I continue to live in the hope that maybe next year I’ll at least break in to the 30K range, but to hell with surveys, they ain’t worth much unless you know the exact questions being asked and I doubt any UK paper has the integrity or faith in the intelligence of their readers.

      Anywho, my problem with union bashing is that it seems to imply a better future for workers once the nasty socialism is gone. I’m not saying that union leaders have never abused their position to make political points, but they are the only people looking out for me at work, the erosion of living standards is testament to that.

      And I’ll despise employers all I want. The bunch of morons that bought-out Longbridge are a perfect example of the standard of British employers. Fat bonuses every year while the company collapsed, but they can’t be blamed too much as their only really skilled at moving from golden parachute to golden handshake while shouting at people to (somehow) make more money. They’ve taken the money and now the workers are having to look to China because the British only invest in homes if they invest at home at all…. good grief.

  2. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    China has no more of an iron curtain than we do or any other country. Some feign openess , transparency , equality and working together in a utilitarian way for the greater good.I don’t believe it. Tyranny visible is in different degrees with apparent diametrically opposed poles of physical despotism , yet whether there is financial manipulation ,physical annilation or any other sort of big boot on top of us , the more powerful use the less powerful.

    Of course Ai Wei Wei and Hu Jia were released for stage ‘ face’ and the farcical aspect of it is we know the games played and they know that we know the games which are played. Talk about double think. How can any nation hope to progress in reality when we play so well at appearance?

    I remember living next door but one to TORY councillor who had a stall in Manchester fish market. His moggy was called Winston, but his children did very well and are now well – healed .It was expected that Conservatives should do well. In those days it was about presentation. A Tory hierarchy was all one needed to succeed. Mum of course being a socialist pulled me down and dad for that matter.

    Whose perspective is real?

  3. Moonbeach says:

    I was brought up during the same period as you, Jon, in the People’s Republic of Liverpool and Communism looked attractive.

    But it was doomed to fail just as China’s will when they have to confront, as they are now beginning to, an aspirational workforce. The same is true of the power structure in India.

    Both of these potential economic giants must evolve quickly if they are to realise their potential. But I fear that the reactionaries in both might cause chaos.

    Let us woo Mr Wen (sorry, couldn’t resist that!) and try to influence him. But we should never lose sight of what is in our National Interest as we have done recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

    China’s society, laws and politics are their business in the same way that ours, for better or worse, belong to us.

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    We await the outcome of the summit meeting today .Will the investments in ‘governments bonds’which amount to trillions the BBC cites have any sway.

    Where will the game of chess and China’s long term investment in Europe go now ?

  5. Philip says:

    I was brought up by Conservative voting parents (though, as he came from manchester, we read the Guardian). Even in 1956 (I was 7), I was clear that the Soviet Union & communism generally were the “enemy”. On the other hand, when I was older & read some Marx and Plekhanov, I could see there was quite a lot in the analysis of capitalism and the theory of communism. A truly communist society would, i suspect, be not very different from the sort of society encouraged by Jesus Christ as quoted in the New Testament. Both utopias are unrealisable, but we are foolish not to recognise the value in some of the thinking. But it seems to me that China is like a vast Singapore – a form of managed capitalism which may begin to face serious political problems as people begin to have more wealth & aspirations. Given our mutual positions in the world, we should aim to be China’s “critical friend”, while remembering that our short term needs for investment shouldn’t be met at the expense of having a significant part of our economy subject to Chinese decisions. That would be jumping from the banker’s frying pan into a wok (sorry!)

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      Yes indeed we did read the Guardian . All our school libraries encouraged us to read this newspaper, although I must admit my home delivered Sunday paper was ‘The Observer’

      We had an evening Guardian also and as a young girl we even used to skip to a tune which went:-

      Manchester Guardian Evening News I sell addition one, then repeated it with 2 and so on. I think we sold the paper for many years to come.

      As for jumping into the frying pan , there is a difference between using our diplomatic maneouvres to encourage bilateral growth and yet not being overtaken by another nation letting them gain ownership of our assets.

      As some European Countries have been helped by China investing long term in government bonds there is a also a tie which will render dependence if these Countries are not careful.

  6. adrian clarke says:

    That must have been a difficult upbringing for anyone Philip.A Tory Guardian reading father.I can now understand why you do not know where you are going :)
    I agree with you on the analysis of how we must deal/trade with China for trade we must.My own philosophy given an ideal world would be pure communism but i realise it is an unobtainable Utopia,so i base my opinions on what i believe is best for this country,

  7. Jonathan Mitchell says:

    China reminds me of the Nazis in the 1930s. Everyone thought then that the Nazi regime was just some slightly odd German chaps with a penchant for burning the odd book and beating up Jews from time to time. American banks gave them the money to build a war machine that almost ate us whole – though left us sans empire in the long run. Now many cosy up to China for cash or for a job, though like the Nazis in the 1930s – witness their terrible approach to domestic security, awful record in Tibet and military build-up. Now we are paying for their war machine with our iPhones and shoes. This is both dangerous and stupid – as it is foolish to feed an Asian tiger which one day, may eat you up…

    1. series says:

      you must be 90 years old .

  8. M says:

    Wow Jonathan. Now THAT’S narrow minded, comparing the Chinese to the Nazis.

    Are you sure? I suppose you don’t know that China, despite being a third-world country just 15 years ago, is now the biggest investor in clean/green energy and improving daily the lives of its HUGE middle class.

    Don’t forget that it’s not easy to keep such a big population in order, or succeed in the world’s global markets in such a short space of time (although with at times at terrible human cost, such as the 14 suicides in Apple’s production factories).

    Also, Apple is, by the way, an AMERICAN company – maybe instead of sourcing their parts from places like China they could choose somehwere different? But in the name of profit, they don’t. And please don’t point fingers at China for war when we were involved in pointless endeavours like Iraq and our troops are still in Afghanistan and Libya.

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