George Osborne is in Beijing at the moment, drumming up support for Britain in the global race. Although that doesn’t quite work because Britain is obviously racing China in this global race, but all the same, he wants China to run alongside Britain cheering it, rather than sledging as it steams ahead. And to be able to do that, this country apparently needs to swallow some of its pride about the sort of country that China is. Osborne told Radio 4 this morning:
‘Well what we’ve said is the Prime Minister is not planning to meet the Dalai Lama but of course he did meet the Dalai Lama as previous British Prime Ministers have and look we understand we have different political systems and we raise the issues we have about that but we also have an incredibly important economic relationship and what I want to make sure is this week we take the next big step in Britain and China’s relationship with each other so we can create jobs and investment in each other’s countries.’
On BBC Breakfast he added that ‘I think sometimes there’s a kind of caricatured view that China is a kind of sweatshop on the banks of the Pearl River’. Of course Britain has to be more pragmatic than a campaigning organisation if it wants to maintain dialogue with important countries such as China, and that means not lecturing them to the extent that the relationship is severed entirely. The row over the Dalai Lama was a warning shot in that direction.
But another area where ministers have had to swallow their pride is over via restrictions on Chinese nationals. Only a few days after the Toughest Immigration Bill Ever landed, the government is seeing the limits of being really tough on immigration. This change shows that something that initially sounds good to voters can end up being bad for this country’s position in that global race.