The United Kingdom, the Belt and Road Initiative, and Policy Amalgams

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Although it never formally participated, the British government described the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and relations with China more broadly in strikingly positive terms between 2015 and 2019. Nonetheless, by late 2019 and amidst a sharp deterioration in relations, the prospect of the UK joining the BRI had more or less disappeared from the government’s agenda. This article argues that there was not a ruptural policy break. While there was a turnaround, there were also significant numbers of short-run policy zigzags. The principal reason for this instability, the article argues, lies in the relatively weak character of the UK-China policy regime which was an amalgam that sought to accommodate and integrate three different ideational clusters. Such amalgams are inherently unstable and policies drawn from them are likely to change quickly in response to internal tensions as well as exogenous events and developments. Given this, British policy towards China moved quickly and erratically between a “golden era”, a repudiation of this as “naïve”, and the designation of China as a “systemic challenge”. Within this context, expressions of enthusiasm for the BRI were displaced by uninterest or scepticism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAsia Europe Journal
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)63-83
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Published online: 07 February 2024.

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