Established in April 2020, China Research Group (CRG) is now working as a research centre for Sino-British relations in the wake of increasing China’s assertiveness and nationalistic sentiments of the Communist Party of China. The CRG has been founded by Conservative MPs of the UK’s Tory party to promote a new debate and come up with better policies for UK-China relations. The group is led by Tom Tugendhat MP who also heads the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of UK and Neil O’Brian, the MP for Harborough and former director of the Policy Exchange think tank. Other members of the CRG committee include Dehenna Davison, Laura Trott MP, Anthony Browne MP, Kevil Hollinrake MP, Andrew Bowie MP, Alicia Kearns MP, and Damian Green MP. Interestingly, not all the members belong to the Tory party and MPs from different political parties of UK have contributed to research and policy prospects on China. To name a few, Damian Green and Andrew Bowie are the moderates in the research group.
What lies ahead for Sino-British relations…
The CRG is developed on the model of the European Research Group, a group of British PMs that support and overlook progress over Brexit. The aim of Senior Tories behind the establishment of the CRG, however, is to explore what lies ahead for UK-China relations and how the relationship with China, the emerging power and a rival, needs a fresh and new outlook. As Tory Tugendhat mentions in his podcast interview with MERICS analyst Thomas Des Garets Geddes, some members of the CRG maintain a hawkish stance against China while others have a less hawkish perspective and work to criticize the realistic moves of China.
China’s sanctions against the CRG bring it into the limelight how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is politically motivated and resorts to sanctions immediately In his talk with the Financial Times, Tom Tugendhat expressed the urgency to develop a working body to look into the activities of CCP regarding political interference, cybersecurity, academic and educational partnerships, lobbying, and espionage. This pretty much sums up the major aims and objectives behind China Research Group.
Looking beyond Coronavirus and Huawei…
The Right-wing Conservatives are becoming wary of China’s growing influence and deepening assertiveness in the UK as well as the world. The Tories have accused China of holding and suppressing information with respect to coronavirus which in turn has unfolded the crisis to an uncontrollable extent. Chinese authorities accused a doctor in Wuhan who warned his colleagues about a new disease of disturbing the social order. The journalists who reported the increasing number of deaths due to a new disease were also arrested. China has further refused to take part in WHO investigations to discover the origins of COVID19 and has been bullying democratic governments of asking “too many” questions.
Moreover, Chinese moves in the areas of technology and nuclear power have fuelled great concerns regarding the increasing role of China. Hence, there is an urgent need for a better understanding of Chinese motives and intentions. As Mr Tugendhat pointed out, it is the need of the hour that UK along with its allies evaluate the words and actions of Chinese leaders.
While the majority of the CRG’s research is dedicated to China’s handling of the Coronavirus outbreak and the questionable activities of Huawei 5G group, CRG believes that there is much more to research and analyse. The group aims at identifying the long-term challenges and opportunities for UK and China relations and for the very purpose, seeks to promote an understanding of the rise of China, its policies at home and abroad. CRG is largely concerned about the trade, industrial, economic, defence, and diplomatic policies of China. Together, the research group looks into:
· Chinese industrial policy
o How the trade policy of China and its strategic investments are impacting and shaping the future of international trade and finance
o How China aims to promote a protectionist yet free market that fulfils Chinese national interests
o How China is creating a debt trap for the developing countries that are heavily dependent on Chinese trade and investments
· China’s economic strategy
o How Chinese Communist Party does not promote free and fair markets
o How the economic strategy of China is not based on fair trade and competition but excessive domination
o How Chinese government aims only to exploit the capitalist system, adding to the protectionist measures and trends
· Chinese technological policy
o How China is influencing the growth and development of future technological powerhouses
o How China is actively participating in technological research and innovations
o How China aspires for technological control over the world’s major technological resources through its companies, specifically Huawei
· Chinese foreign policy
o How China is adopting soft power and hard power moves in order to achieve its political, economic, and security interests across the globe
o How China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expanding and if it is imparting positive or negative impacts for the UK, and the world
o How does China’s foreign policy align or contrast with that of UK
o What are the domains that UK and China should closely collaborate in and what are the areas in which the UK needs to part ways from China to protect its sovereignty and national interests?
China and the increasing human rights violations…
The CRG is also committed to bring increasing human rights violations by Chinese authorities against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province to international attention. Having spoken on the atrocities that China is committing against Uyghurs, the CRG was recently targeted for sanctions by China alongside other independent human rights groups such as the Uyghur Tribunal, Conservative Party Human Rights Commission (CPHRC), and Essex Court Chambers.
Despite sanctions, the British MPs and the CRG are still passionate to shed light on the human rights violations that China continues to commit. It has further helped in evaluating where China’s domestic policies stand against minorities and how such gross acts of human rights violations have put an end to the golden era of Sino-British relations for the UK is not willing to engage with a country that does not respect human rights.
This reflects that human rights violations in China are one of the most significant research domain of the China Research Group and plays a crucial role in re-examining Chinese intentions.
The West is waking up…
The CRG also aims to highlight how Western countries such as Japan, Australia, and EU have largely realized Chinese intentions and the need to bring a bigger shift to end Chinese dominance and control its influence. Recently, the United States has banned different kinds of technology from China. A new debate has exploded in the EU regarding China’s deterrence against technology. Japan has made moves to restore its subsidies in order to cut production from China. The UK is now taking actions to protect itself against commercial espionage by China.
Still, much needs to be done and the CRG is focusing on driving the debate about what and how. The West needs a new plan, and it needs it fast, to contain China from exploiting politics, economy, security, and all the other areas of geopolitics. Gone are the days when the West was benefitting from China’s cheap production. Today, it is at the verge of manipulation of international norms and customs.
Where does the funding come from?
Well, as far as the funding for the CRG is concerned, it works exactly as other research groups and organizations. In his podcast interview with MERICS, Mr. Tugendhat shared that the members of CRG sponsor research along with several external political figures. Sometimes, research comes out of a collaboration with another research group while at other times, it is research experts contributing to the work of an established research group, which the CRG already is.
Moreover, the CRG being a UK organization also receives funding from the UK government time to time. Nevertheless, it operates as an independent research group.
The future of the CRG…
Given the research objectives and patterns of the CRG, it is going to become an influential research group studying the future of Sino-British relations. Already comprised of British PMs and enjoying significant research contribution from researchers and analysts, the CRG is believed to be making a huge impact on the decisions and UK policies towards China. It can turn out to be a strong group of UK conservative and moderate thinkers, politicians, and policymakers controlling the reins of UK-China relations.
The conservatives, however, sometimes appear to maintain quite a hawkish stance, putting every move of China at spear-edge.
Adopting such a critical eye can bring about hypercritical turns in UK-China relations, making UK and China great adversaries in years to come. If, on the other hand, the Chinese government keeps an open mind regarding international criticism, the CRG can prove to be quite effective in maintaining the status quo.
Overall, the CRG aims to bring positive changes in UK-China relations, emphasizing on the fact that CRG is not “anti-China”.
The many different trade and aid policies being pursued by China globally have been heavily criticised but can developing countries become more independent or will China’s policy reform?