Eva Pils. Jane Henderson. King's Law Journal. "BREXIT and International Relations: The Impact of Brexit on Relations with Russia and China."

In autumn 2016 Affiliated Professor Eva Pils co-published the artile considering the likely impact of Brexit on relations between the United Kingdom, China, and Russia.

INTRODUCTION

This paper considers the likely impact of Brexit on the relations between the United Kingdom and two significant states on the world stage: Russia, which is physically the largest, and heir to one of the Cold War superpowers, and China, which is the most populous, and which some think may be the next superpower. In discussing this impact, we also address how Brexit affects the EU’s relationship with Russia and China.

This question can be conveniently considered from three different (though interacting) perspectives. First, what impact will the change in Britain’s EU status have on individual Russian/Chinese or UK citizens wishing to travel to, invest in or trade with the other state? Secondly, what change is likely between Russia/China and Britain on a state-to-state level? Finally, both the UK and Russia/China belong to some important international organisations; will Britain leaving the EU impact on its place in these other organisations in relation to Russia or China?
 

A. Russia

England (and later, the UK) and Russia have a long history of interaction, sometimes as friend, sometimes as foe. Tsar Ivan Grozny (Ivan the Terrible) would have liked to have married Queen Elizabeth I (or failing that, one of her maids in waiting) but was refused. The first Russian Emperor, Peter the Great, stayed in London from January to April 1698. As during his preceding visit to the Netherlands, he worked in the dockyards to learn about shipbuilding. (He also had some notoriously drunken parties.) This led to a sadly brief period of unprecedentedly warm relations between Britain and Russia. During the following century, Jeremy Bentham’s works were of interest to Prince Potemkin, one of the lovers of Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great). In early nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries respectively the desires of Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler to expand their empires put Russia on the same side as Britain; in the 1850s during the Crimean War they opposed one another as part of the then ‘Great Game’ waged between the British, French, Ottoman and Russian empires. Lenin also spent time in London

B. China

Historically the most important thing about Sino-British relations is these relations’ principal origin in colonialism. British historians usually note (not always without gloating about China’s subsequent surrender to British power and influence) that when George III’s emissary arrived in China in 1793 to request that the British be allowed to establish more extensive trade relations on their own terms, his gifts were graciously accepted, but the request rejected with the message,

As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures. This then is my answer to your request to appoint a representative at my Court, a request contrary to our dynastic usage, which would only result in inconvenience to yourself … 22 Emperor Qianlong, letter to George III, 1793, available in translation at <http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/qianlong.html>.View all notes

Chinese historians will of course comment on the ‘unequal treaties’ that, inter alia, ceded Hong Kong and, later, its New Territories to Britain, and the memory of the humiliation33 The term conventionally used is ‘national humiliation’ (guochi).View all notes and wreckage colonialism brought to China is symbolised, to many people's minds, by the ruins of wanton ‘punitive’ destruction that can still be seen in Yuanming Park in north-west Beijing.44 Sheila Melvin, ‘The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan’ (ChinaFile, 4 May 2012) <www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/caixin-media/ruins-yuanmingyuan>.View all notes

When the UK, in October 2015, received the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and President of the People's Republic of China (PRC) Xi Jinping with extraordinary pomp—taking him to Buckingham Palace in a golden carriage and repeatedly using the phrase ‘golden relationship’ to predict a glorious shared future of exchange and partnership55 Shi Zhiqin and Lai Suetyi, ‘Xi's Visit to Kick Off a Golden Age of China-UK Relations’ The Diplomat (15 October 2015) <http://thediplomat.com/2015/10/xis-visit-to-kick-off-a-golden-age-of-china-uk-relations/>.View all notes—some saw in this a poignant reversal of fortunes. But there were many concerns about China's numerous rule of law challenges, at a time when the UK, like other European countries, seemed to have its own, different, struggles with adhering to and endorsing human rights standards.

A few months later, Brexit seemed likely to add to anxieties and concerns about what is already a complex and challenging relationship,66 Tom Phillips, ‘China, Britain and Brexit: Vote to Leave EU Robs “Golden Relationship” of Its Lustre’ The Guardian (London, 30 June 2016) <www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/30/china-britain-and-brexit-vote-to-leave-eu-robs-golden-relationship-of-its-lustre>.View all notes even though in terms of immediate consequences for individuals (see section II.B) there is little that can be predicted with any confidence at this point. China's influence on and in a Britain that is no longer part of the EU is set to generate legal and political challenges.

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