What China Thinks About the Brexit

By Kerry Brown, The Diplomat

It is rare for Chinese leaders to opine on issues relating to the sovereign matters of other powers, for the very good reason that they don’t want tetchy questions about their own domestic preoccupations. Nonetheless, Chinese President Xi Jinping, when visiting the U.K. last October, apparently said in private that China supported Britain remaining in the European Union.

Xi’s comments would not have helped Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU — British people are no fonder of hearing foreigners dole out well-meaning advice than the citizens of any other nation. But Xi was probably being honestly pragmatic when he advised the U.K. to stay, and had no other agenda. The world is a tough, competitive, merciless place. You need friends wherever you can find them. Being in a bloc like the EU at least sorts out some of the more routine answers to that famous Maoist question: “Who are your enemies, who are your friends?”

When he reportedly made the comment last year, Xi probably believed there was a strong likelihood that the U.K. people would vote to stay. Elite contemporary leaders of Communist China, after all, don’t have a very detailed knowledge of the nuances of democracy. But Xi would not have been alone in assuming that Cameron would only have embarked on such a strategy, where the costs of failure were so high, if he was pretty certain of the result. As the famous quip goes, Chinese leaders don’t mind elections, as long as they know the results beforehand. Unfortunately for Cameron, that’s not the way democracy works in the U.K. Read more


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