Fate of Qing Dynasty offers some lessons for UK

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By Ai Jun Source: Global Times

Huawei File photo:VCG

Does the mind-set of today’s Great Britain resemble that of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the last imperial dynasty of China?

After the UK government announced a ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network, British scholar Martin Jacques tweeted, “History turns full circle. In 1793, Chinese Emperor Qianlong told the British King: ‘We don’t have the slightest need of your country’s manufactures.’ So marked the start of China’s 150-year decline. In 2020, UK tells China that it has no need of China’s latest technology.”

The remarks were quoted by Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming during his interview with BBC on Sunday. Liu added, “I do not know what will happen in the next 150 years.”

What the UK faces now is somewhat similar to what the Qing Dynasty had faced. Any country with a splendid history might feel uncertain in the face of an emerging power.

People who are familiar with the Qing Dynasty know the closed-door policy during the period well. When then British lord George Macartney led a mission in 1793 to visit Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) of the Qing Dynasty and showed the latter a telescope, clocks and watches, models of artillery and warships, Qianlong described them as merely diabolical tricks and witchcraft. History soon witnessed how the dynasty declined due to its close-door policy.

The most valuable lesson China has learned from that period is that a country must open up to advanced ideas, technologies and countries if it wishes to develop itself. Today’s China is keeping its door wide open to the world, because it has suffered enough from remaining closed and self-fettered.

Huawei has been operating in the UK for over 20 years, with its equipment and technologies being widely used in the country’s 2G, 3G and 4G networks. Eliminating the company’s role would thus be equivalent to “self-harm” of UK’s telecoms networks, as some British observers believe.

Assembly Research, a London-based independent analyst firm, issued a report in 2019, claiming “a partial, or full restriction on the use of Huawei could result in a delay to the 5G roll-out of between 18 and 24 months.” Some observers even claimed it would take a decade to entirely remove Huawei from UK’s network currently in use.

Certain British politicians believe the UK will be fine without the Chinese company. Sure, it will be all right, but the country will have to waste a few years to make up for the price paid in this geopolitical game, when other parts of the world are accelerating their pace in developing high technology in telecoms network.

When Emperor Qianlong cast a cold eye to advanced technologies, he made the decision himself. But when London decided to ban Huawei, coercion from Washington could be sensed.

The UK had its glorious days. Thanks to its pioneering spirit in science and technology, it became the world’s first industrialized country. The prosperity of the British Empire was also closely linked to trade. Regrettably, UK’s current high-tech agenda is dominated by the US. Would London sober up and make decisions for its best interests on its own? It’s important to draw wisdom from history.

China has always been sincere to the UK. And it is hoped London can escape distractions when interacting with Beijing.

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