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China–UK Relations: Where to Draw the Border Between Influence and Interference?
China’s rise has been accompanied by increasing attempts by the CCP to control the narrative on China in other countries. The Party pours considerable resources into influence and interference activities. The former are part of ‘public diplomacy and are acceptable, even if sometimes unwelcome; the latter are unacceptable. Defining influence and interference is not easy. In the last two years Australia, New Zealand and other liberal democracies have documented and discussed – sometimes heatedly – interference by the CCP in their countries. So far, the UK has been largely silent.
Charles Parton considers the CCP’s ‘united front strategy’ and concludes that there is every reason for, and some evidence of, Beijing interfering in the UK. He looks at seven areas where interference is either happening or has the potential to cause harm to the UK’s values, interests or security: academia, media and publishing, freedom of speech and rule of law, politics and public policy, espionage, threats to critical national infrastructure, and wider technological threats. The paper also suggests recommendations to counter interference in those areas. The problem of CCP interference is not going to go away. The UK government, business, academia and other sectors will have to come up with a strategy which minimises the consequences of interference, while maximising the chances of a establishing a productive, balanced relationship with China.
Charles Parton is a RUSI Associate Fellow and Specialist Adviser on China to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. He spent 37 years as a diplomat with the UK and the EU, and worked for 22 of those years in or on China. Since leaving diplomacy, he has continue to think, write and talk on China. His main areas of interest are the domestic politics of China, and the nature and role of the CCP.
He read ancient history and philosophy at University College, Oxford. Early in his diplomatic career he was sent to learn Mandarin. 37 years later the struggle to master the language continues. His articles have appeared in the Financial Times, the Spectator, Chatham House’s The World Today among other publications. He also comments on Chinese affairs on the BBC and on Al-Jazeera.