Successfully coping with the COVID-19 outbreak in recent months, Beijing set about restarting its massive economy a month ago. The rest of the world, meanwhile, remains on lockdown with economies virtually shut down, and hasn’t even begun to play catchup.
Britain’s domestic counterintelligence agency MI5 and its foreign intelligence cousin MI6 want London to reassess its relationship with China once the coronavirus crisis is over, and to consider methods to reduce Chinese access to the country’s high tech industries and education, the Guardian has reported, citing a source in Whitehall said to be familiar with discussions on the matter.
Specifically, the agencies wants No 10 to consider ways to restrict China’s ability to buy up UK high-tech firms, reduce Chinese students’ access to research at the country’s universities, and take other, similar measures.
According to the newspaper, MI5 and MI6 also fear that China may become “more assertive” in defending its political and economic model once the pandemic is over.
The Whitehall source sums up the measures that need to be taken as a need to protect “the crown jewels” of British technology, research and innovation, including in the fields of digital communications and AI, and to diversify its 6G and 7G infrastructure purchases when it’s time to do so, presumably in the decades to come.
China, which became the first country in the world to shut down wide swathes of its economy earlier this year as the COVID-19 crisis turned into a pandemic, began reporting signs of economic recovery last month as quarantines were lifted and people and industries were allowed to get back to work. Last week, the country’s statistical bureau reported that the Purchasing Manager’s Index on industrial activity hit 52 points in March, up from 35.7 in February (anything below 50 on the scale indicates a contraction). The country also reported that some 96.6 percent of its large and medium-sized enterprises are back to work, up from just 17.7 percent in February. China has also dropped out of the top five nations in total COVID-19 cases, reporting a total of 83,100+ cases and 3,343 deaths as of Sunday, with cases plateauing throughout the month of March.
In Europe, and most of the rest of the world, things look a little less optimistic for the moment, with most countries maintaining lockdowns, and COVID-19 cases continuing to rise. Last week, European economic giants France and Germany, as well as Italy and Spain, all reported a dramatic collapse in economic activity, and the composite services and manufacturing PMI dropping from 51.6 in February to 29.7 in March. Across the Channel, the UK reported a similar drop, from 53.2 to 34.5 during this period. While the lockdowns remain in place, countries are eating through their savings, or adding to their national debts, as more and more people become lose their jobs and require economic assistance to get through the crisis.