Where to go, Global Britain?


After month-long debates, bargains and secret deals among the ruling elite of the United Kingdom, Conservative Party members have chosen foreign secretary Liz Truss to be the next leader of the Party. It was announced by Graham Brady who acts the chair of the 1922 Committee since this body is charged with overseeing the election of new leaders of the Party. He confirms that Truss had won more votes than former finance minister Rishi Sunak as the poll shows Truss defeated Sunak by 81,326 votes to 60,399, a closer result than many pundits expected, winning 57 percent of votes cast compared to Sunak’s 43 percent. The lowest margin of victory of any Conservative leader.

                 There is no question that no matter whether you like this result or not, this is the domestic politics of Britain though not by its people or for its people. Like she did in her victory speech, Truss pledged action to deal with the cost-of-living crisis aiming to deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024. This piece also wishes UK all the best along the way to deal with the energy crisis and economic slow-down as Global Britain of the 21st century rather than to dream the legacy of the British Empire of the old days.

                 Historically speaking, there have been only two global powers in the real sense as what Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-American” powers: United Kingdom and the United States. Walter Mead put it that “The British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world but also the evolution of what we today call “world order”. A worldwide system of trade and finance have made both Britain and America rich, those riches are what gave them the capabilities to project the military force based on the latest technology globally to ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems.” Now acting as the Anglo-American axis in anti-Russian coalition, it is necessary to dissect new British Prime Minister Liz Truss in terms of foreign policy and international order.

                 As an Oxford graduate and a political admirer of the famed Margaret Thatcher, Liz Truss has demonstrated obvious aspiration and steady pursuit of the UK’s 56th prime minister although she has been described by quite a few media comments as a Chameleon political hack. Truss has risen rapidly through the ranks within one decade only: being elected as an MP in 2010, joining the government in 2012, the cabinet in 2014 and named foreign secretary in 2021. However, this piece tries to keep distances from any discussions on personality or nationality but exclusively focuses on her statecrafts and wisdom as she belongs to British political hierarchy. It is true that some specialists have argued that Liz Truss doesn’t have the intellectual heft required to serve her country and the world peace. Domestically, she shows social courtesy to her campaign competitor Rishi Sunak as she praised him in her acceptance speech saying, “since it’s been a hard-fought campaign, I think we both have shown the depth and breadth of talent in our Conservative party.” However, she equally said her first correspondence would be with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This leads to a prospect that her foreign policy will be based on ideology or pragmatism in dealing with the conventional and non-conventional security issue in the world. A question asked repeatedly during her successful campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party was “who is the real Liz Truss.”

                 Internationally, Truss has not convinced the world that she is capable and wise in dealing with all major issues although she has served the UK’s Foreign Secretary. For example, she already has a testy relationship with the EU as a result of her hardline approach to the Northern Ireland protocol and there are few signs of deviation. She is strong backer of Ukraine, a vociferous critic of Russia and has taken a hard rhetorical line on China. Given this, it is likely that she acts as the new prime minister but inherits formidable challenges, constraints that will test her ideology and walking a political tightrope. Particularly for those who seek a better China-UK relationship, the road ahead under Truss could be bumpier than before, e.g., under her tenure as the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Truss has already given us a taste of what her style could be like. She has been a fierce anti-China hawk within the government and on the international stage. According to a report by POLITICO, Truss made the decision to cut funding for the Great Britain China Centre, an agency of the Foreign Office aimed at promoting “mutual trust and understanding between UK and China.” She had suggested that the UK should arm China’s Taiwan region so that “it has the ability to defend itself” against the Chinese mainland. She has been in lockstep with the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific strategy, joining it and Australia in forming AUKUS, and declared the need for building a “network of liberty” – an overused rhetoric in recent years that has become synonymous with attacking China. Echoing the U.S. strategy in Indo-Pacific, Truss has called for a “global NATO” while calling on the UK’s relationship with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to be “turbo-charged.” She has also been developing greater depth of cooperation between the UK and ASEAN. There has been a widely circulated report by media outlets like The Times and Daily Mail saying that Truss is expected to make an unprecedented move by classifying China as a “threat” to the UK’s national security once she becomes the prime minister. However, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating put it earlier this year when he said that Truss had made “demented” comments about Chinese military aggression in the Pacific, saying that “Britain suffers delusions of grandeur and relevance deprivation”.

                 Can the world trust Liz Truss since she is not trustable and more lacks intellect and any moral compass in politics except imperial arrogance and cultural ignorance to the world beyond Britain. There seems to be universal inquiry into if she shares several traits with a former US president who claimed to be a stable genius but who sealed all his academic records. Even domestically, Truss is well on the way to enabling and encouraging the break-up of the “‘United’ Kingdom”. She seems to be, like Trump, a bull in a China shop. And in a poll conducted last week, based on 1,500 voters and carried out by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that Labor’s Starmer was four points ahead of Truss, with 39 per cent backing him against 35 per cents supporting her. That means, has Truss finally reached her level of incompetence, by becoming PM? She may well see herself as Elizabeth I and/or Margaret Thatcher all rolled into one. She will need a quick victory in a little war to compel popular support, but the UK’s political and economic decline is unlikely to be reversed. Due to this scenario, we can say only in a frank way: “Good luck to Great Britain under your new PM”.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.