With President Xi about to visit the USA, and significant personnel from my home nation’s government on a trade mission to China, it is small wonder that my ears are picking up an awful lot of rhetoric around Sino-Anglo/American relations… and an awfully fine line between that rhetoric and bullshit.
The UK is putting on a brave face in China, talking up business relations and a bright future – despite the evident competitiveness compounded by difficulties like ageing workforces and declining economies, not to mention underlying awkwardness (if not tension) around cultural differences and ‘sensitive’ issues like human rights. The messaging seems to be the usual mix of simple, largely monosyllabic, rhetorical language: ‘We are in this together’… and, mitigating for yet more dismal decades ahead, ‘we are better off together’.
In this morning’s rush hour, I listened to a BBC radio report on the UK government’s current visit to China. It was hard not to listen with cynical ears, and perhaps harder to decipher what semblance of reality lay between the lines. Hence it was easy to arrive at the opinion that the rhetoric sounded very much as if the UK Chancellor (a.k.a. head salesman on this trip) is overseas talking up how the UK (or is it just his contacts and networks?) want to embrace the commercial opportunities that will (may) come by reaching out to (hooking and hoodwinking) “one-fifth of the world’s population” (China).
Even the brief time that I have spent in China has made one thing very evident: the vast majority of that same “one-fifth of the world’s population” is very poor, to say the least. This looks to be the case for some decades yet, despite a rising middle class in China that may (or may not) become significant by around 2050 (according to the World Bank, among other sources that you too can happily Google).
More presently, and more pointedly, what on earth has the UK got to sell to those poverty-stricken masses of Chinese people? As is so often the case, the homeland perception of this kind of branding-and-bumpf tour by ‘our’ politicians overseas is muddied, murky, mysterious. The reporting, mostly reduced to sound bites, does not cast much light on the dark arts of overseas business. The radio report I heard plainly reeked of bullshit.
Nonetheless there remain underlying points of interest in this story – a developing, global, story of our times. For example, my debut novel Monkey Steals Plum pivots on the burgeoning work relationship between a super rich Chinese investor and a Graphene applications team in the UK. In the light of the current, real life, trade missions the book is, arguably, prophetic. One thing looks certain: the real world opportunities of Graphene and the widening potential of its ‘next gen’ 2-D successors (see my previous posts) are in danger of being lost, outright, to competitors like the Chinese. In fact, at the time of writing, China leads the world in commercial patents relating to Graphene.
You will never tame the dragon, yet if you want to understand her better, you can do a lot worse than start by reading the Monkey… As a work of frank and factual fiction, it might even help the political leaders to cleanse their diction of the dizzying lines between rhetoric and bullshit.