Australia signed a free trade agreement with China in 2015. Since then it has become increasingly economically dependent on Beijing as nearly two-thirds of Australian exports go to China. Australia discovered the risk to sovereignty of being overly dependent on exports to China when it questioned Beijing’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
The nation was punished with crippling tariffs for questioning China’s coronavirus response and supporting democracy in Hong Kong.
A post-Brexit free trade agreement between Britain and China could be a financial lifeline for Britain’s export economy, but such an agreement would have consequences similar to Australia.
Professor Steve Tsang of SOAS University China Institute, a leading UK scholar, said: “China will not hesitate to do to Britain what it did to Australia.”
However, he stated that Britain “will not be as vulnerable as Australia”.
He added: “The UK will not be as exposed and dependent on China as Australia as a trading partner.
“So China’s threat of punishment won’t hurt so much.”
A recent Bruegel University report suggested that a UK-China trade deal “would not be clearly beneficial to the UK”.
SOAS University Professor Steve Tsang also stated that “a trade deal with China must clearly be beneficial to China in order for it to be acceptable to China.”
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The Global Times states: “Many goods produced by the regional industrial chain may not be subject to a free trade agreement due to the rule of origin. This usually requires that goods be wholly manufactured in one of the participating countries or a minimum percentage of its value produced there.
“So a free trade agreement with China is essential for the UK.”
However, if the UK is hoping for a free trade deal with China, Beijing has warned that China has “the bottom line not to touch”.
Many fear that China would expect Britain to meet certain conditions in order to reach a trade deal.
Beijing could insist that Huawei be involved in the UK 5G infrastructure.
The Beijing Politburo could also seek to oblige the UK to ignore human rights violations and attacks on democratic principles in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
When asked whether China would ask Britain to break away from its support for Taiwan and democracy and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Professor Steve Tsang said, “Some or all of them could be asked of China in the wording China expected and requires its trading partners to be friendly to China and that any country that poses problems about Hong Kong, Xinjiang or Taiwan be classed as hostile by China. “