Peter Hartcher’s “think” piece about China in last Wednesday’s SMH uses a dodgy opening example to prove his point. He claims that Tony Blair spent 25 minutes “pleading” on the phone with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to save British car-maker MG Rover.

Hartcher can’t possibly know that Blair was “pleading”. Neither the English or Chinese Governments discussed the tone of the conversation with the press. Hartcher goes on to write: “And Britain, the seat of the industrial revolution, one of the European powers that conquered Asia and carved up a prostrate China, now finds itself looking to Chinese investors to support its manufacturing sector.”

This misrepresents the situation. MG Rover is bankrupt. None of the global car companies are interested because Rover can’t compete with the one million cars assembled in Britain by General Motors, Nissan and other companies. But 6,000 jobs are at stake and the UK is in an election campaign. Rover’s Birmingham factory is near several marginal Labour seats.

Blair isn’t begging the Chinese to save Britain’s manufacturing industry. He’s trying to sell a dog to protect his parliamentary majority. The Chinese are the only ones biting, perhaps because they want Rover’s assembly-line technology. The case proves nothing about China’s rise or Britain’s alleged decline.

Hartcher’s broader argument about the rise and rise of China is surely true but he’s not letting the facts get in the way of a good story to illustrate it.

Peter Fray

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