David Cameron’s journey from “human rights champion to business pragmatist has been spectacular”, says Kerry Brown in The Guardian. In 2011 Cameron took the Chinese premier to task about human rights abuses; in 2012 he met the Dalai Lama, which resulted in the UK being “relegated to the diplomatic deep freeze”. This week, he only wants to talk trade. No wonder he is being taken to task for kowtowing to the Chinese.
He should have been “more nuanced and pragmatic” right from the start, says the Financial Times. “All governments face a challenge reconciling trade ambitions with human rights concerns when dealing with authoritarian states.” But the UK-China trade relationship will, in any case, have “limited prospects while Britain remains ambivalent about its place in the EU”. He says he wants to “champion an EU-China trade deal”, but he is the only European leader who has pledged to hold a referendum on quitting the EU.
We should stop criticising Cameron, says Dan Hodges in The Daily Telegraph. “Britain is fighting for her economic life” and leading a trade mission of 131 business representatives to one of the world’s economic powerhouses is exactly what he should be doing. We need to be “scrapping” for every competitive advantage we can. We can’t just stick a “Made in Britain” sticker on our products and expect everyone to start buying them.
And there is some evidence that these trade missions work, says Ben Chu in The Independent. During his visit to China in October, the chancellor, George Osborne, gave the green light to allowing Chinese firms to invest in the Hinkley Point nuclear plant. This week, Standard Chartered and the Agricultural Bank of China signed an agreement to start renminbi clearing services in the UK. Both deals had long been in gestation, but the missions may have brought matters to a head. The Chinese preference for serious “face time” before doing deals makes these trips valuable, as does the fact that firms can associate themselves with the prime mnister.
These endless trade missions are nothing more than a “ludicrous” perk, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. Britain will sell to China when its goods and services merit it. If Cameron really wanted to help trade, he would ease the Home Office visa barrier that does “more than anything to stifle Britain’s most promising real export to China, which is tourism”. Instead, that industry must “sit at home like Cinderella”.