History has a way of repeating itself, but never in exactly the same way. After Chinese President Xi Jin Ping visited the Pacific Northwest and Washington, D.C., he flew to London where he was given a lavish red carpet treatment by the British government.
This visit brought to full circle British Ambassador George Macartney’s famous visit to Imperial China in 1793. At that time, Great Britain was the world’s emerging super power. The Chinese government and emperor saw China as the mediator between Heaven and Earth – the “Middle Kingdom.” All nations were inferior to it.
In order to meet with the Chinese emperor, Macartney and his party had to travel overland from Macao in southern China all the way to Beijing – a rough and arduous journey in the late 18th century, but one that was meant to impress the British embassy with the vastness and wealth of China.
When Macartney arrived, heated negotiations took place as to whether he had to “kowtow” to the Emperor – kneel on both knees before him and bang his head on the marble floor nine times so that the sound could be heard at a distance. Macartney, representing King George III, saw Great Britain as an equal to China, not a subject, and refused. According to some accounts he kneeled on one knee as to a monarch; others say he kowtowed once.
Although the Chinese did not understand it that time, their dominance and power would wane and result in more than 100 years of Chinese humiliation and domination by the West. The Chinese government well remembers this period to this day.
During that time, Britain waged two successful wars, The Opium Wars, against the Chinese (1839-42 and 1856-1860). Because of these wars, the Chinese government was forced to allow the sale of the drug in their country. The opium was produced in British India. Selling it to the Chinese ended the trade deficit created by the Chinese demand that sales of Chinese porcelain (china) and silks to Great Britain be paid for in silver.
As a result, millions of Chinese became addicted to opium. The British government also obtained Hong Kong as their colony as a result of the Opium Wars; Hong Kong was returned in 1997.
In 1949 the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong and the Communists defeated the Nationalists in their civil war. Mao’s rise to power ended the century of humiliation by the West. Beginning in 1978 President Deng Xiao Ping set the country on a different course, one that has made China either the world’s first or second largest economic power, and one that was beginning to challenge the U.S. as a rival military power as well.
Now, 122 years later, the tables are turned. China is the emerging superpower while Britain has been on the decline since the end of World War II. Britain needs Chinese investment to build up its infrastructure and stimulate manufacturing, according to a Stratfor article entitled, “After Two Centuries China and the U.K. Switch Roles.” Additionally, China wants to internationalize its currency, the Yuan. London, being one of the world’s major financial centers, is the place to do that.
China also got Britain to sign up for the Chinese-led Asian Bank against the wishes of Britain’s closest ally, the United States. Xi Jin Ping wants to take advantage of British intellectual property through increased trade. These two examples show the increasing influence and power of China internationally.
It was 122 years earlier when negotiations between Macartney and the Qing Dynasty broke down. Today, closer ties are being forged. Instead of the British forcing opium upon the Chinese, the Chinese are using their vast cash reserves to addict the British to Chinese investments. The Chinese are far subtler than the British were. The British are suitably impressed. There will be no wars to impose Chinese will upon the English. Simple economics will govern increased relationships between the U.K. and the People’s Republic of China.
China’s century of humiliation has ended. Xi Jin Ping’s recent visit to London was received with alacrity. It seems the British are kowtowing to China after all.