Wednesday, 24 Feb 2021

UK China relationship ‘deteriorates’ even more as Beijing bans BBC – ‘point of friction’

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Recent developments on Friday have seen China ban the BBC World Service from broadcasting in the south Asian country, its television and radio regulator announced. China has criticised the BBC for its reporting on coronavirus and the persecution of ethnic minority Uighurs. The BBC said it was “disappointed” by the decision, but likely wasn’t surprised. British media regulator Ofcom has also revoked state broadcaster China Global Television Network’s (CGTN) license to air programmes in the UK.

Separately, the broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) said it would stop relaying BBC World Service programming in the region.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Andrew Moran, professor of international relations at the Metropolitan University of London, said: “It’s no secret that Britain’s relationship with China has deteriorated in recent months.

“Huawei, Hong Kong, the persecution of the Uighur population, and even the recent tit-for-tat banning of media companies such as the BBC has highlighted how difficult this relationship can be, especially as Prime Minister Johnson embarks on pursuing his ‘Global Britain’ agenda.”

Professor Moran said China’s decision to ban the BBC “is most likely because of its coverage of the persecution of Uighurs, and a retaliation in response to Ofcom”.

He added: “Though most Chinese people cannot view the BBC World News due to restrictions in the country, its banning is symbolic of the desire by China to limit any criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The Chinese state Film, TV and Radio Administration warned that broadcast guidelines state the news must not ‘harm China’s national interests’.”

Last year, China and the UK faced a number of controversies as relations between the two powers reached a head.

Concerns over security implications of Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network, and concerns raised by members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that Britain belongs to, resulted in an order to remove all Huawei products from the UK’s markets.

In addition, a further ban was issued on domestic mobile phone providers buying Huawei equipment for use in new technology.

Professor Moran said: “Arguably, as the second largest provider of smartphones in the world, this should not damage Huawei significantly.

“But it is symptomatic of the declining trust between the two countries.”

Things really started to go wrong last year when Beijing authorities introduced highly controversial new security laws in Hong Kong, breaking a treaty agreed by Britain and China.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed into law between the UK and China on December 19, 1984 in Beijing, and declares sovereign and administrative arrangements of Hong Kong after July 1, 1997.

And what followed in the state was a violent clamp-down on the pro-democracy movement in the city.

Professor Moran explained the implications of China’s actions: “Beijing’s introduction of controversial new security laws in Hong Kong and the violent clamp down on the pro-democracy movement broke the agreements reached when Britain returned the former territory to China in 1997.

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“Since then, they have severely undermined China’s claims that it would maintain a ‘one country, two systems’.”

The UK’s condemnation of the treatment of China’s Uighur population is likely to sink the relationship even further going forward.

Professor Moran explained: “Evidence suggests over one million people have been detained in ‘re-education camps’, where they have been subjected to torture, rape and sexual abuse, which is something the Chinese leadership denies.

“The British Government has already begun to tighten laws on importing goods linked to alleged human rights abuses.

“It is likely that the UK will be asked to do more by the international community as it ramps up pressure on China.”

But one thing we can be sure of – while all this is going on, China’s population likely has no idea what’s happening on the world stage.

Increasing state censorship is taking place on a nationwide basis, as has been seen with China banning the BBC, which is increasingly dangerous in a modern age.

Going forward, the professor thinks maintaining a positive relationship with China will take “nuanced diplomacy” as well as collaboration with other countries.

He concluded: “The relationship between China and the West will be one of the defining events of the 21st Century.

“If handled carefully, China’s rise can be accommodated within the international system.

“But as China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xioming, warned last year – ‘we want to be your friend. We want to be your partner. But if you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences’.”

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