Glossary: The jargon, acronyms, and historical terms that frame the UK-China relationship

David Cameron and Xi Jinping during a commercial contract exchange in 2015.
David Cameron and Xi Jinping during a commercial contract exchange in 2015.
Image: Leon Neal/WPA Pool/Getty Images
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The world of China watchers is replete with jargon and near-identical acronyms that you will need to know in order to understand the conversations featured in this series, and in order to make sense of the current tensions between the governments in London and Beijing.

The players

All-Party Parliamentary China Group (APPCG): An informal cross-party group of MPs formed around the handover of Hong Kong to, in its own words, “ensure parliamentarians are kept well informed on China,” and “act as a platform for discussions on all issues of importance to the UK-China relationship.” Richard Graham is chair, and Mark Logan is vice-chair for media and the North of England.

China Research Group (CRG): A think tank launched in April 2020 by MPs Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien to, in its own words, “promote debate and fresh thinking about how Britain should respond to the rise of China.” In March 2021, the CRG and its founders were sanctioned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry for “maliciously spreading lies and disinformation” about China’s human rights record.

China-Britain Business Council (CBBC): A private company established in 1954 to promote UK businesses in China and attract Chinese investors to the British market. CBBC advises the UK and Chinese governments, and both the British and Chinese embassies. James Sassoon is president.

Great-Britain China Center (GBCC): A public nonprofit established by the UK government in 1974 to promote closer ties with China and cross-cultural understanding. Important figures in UK-China relations fill GBCC’s board, including John Major, who oversaw the handover of Hong Kong as British prime minister.

Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC): A hawkish group of legislators from countries in the EU, the Five Eyes, and the Quad, that launched in June 2020 to, in its own words, “promote a coordinated response between democratic states to challenges posed by the present conduct and future ambitions of the People’s Republic of China.” Several IPAC members were also sanctioned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Iain Duncan Smith is a co-chair and Luke de Pulford a founder and coordinator.

Five Eyes: An intelligence alliance that originated during World War II, and is made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.  

The papers

Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI): A joint investment agreement between the Chinese government and the European Union signed in December 2020 to open up China’s market to European businesses. It was seen as a pivotal victory in the EU-China relationship. But its future is now uncertain, because it needs to be ratified by the European Parliament, but the Chinese government’s sanctions on MEPs and EU institutions makes that less likely.

Integrated Review: A highly anticipated strategy paper published in March 2021 under the name “Global Britain in a Competitive Age” that outlines the UK government’s ambitions for post-Brexit security, defense, development, and foreign policy. It was hyped as a China strategy, but disappointed some China watchers for its emphasis on Britain’s “positive economic relationship” with Beijing.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: An agreement ratified in 1948 by members of the United Nations general assembly that defines genocide and commits global governments to “prevent and to punish” it when it happens. One of its authors was Peng Chung (PC) Chang, vice chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, and a Chinese national.

Trade Bill: A bill that received royal assent and was made into law as the Trade Act 2021. It “makes provision about the implementation of international trade agreements.” It became controversial because rebels in Parliament fought a battle to attach an amendment to it that could have prevented the UK government from signing free trade agreements with countries accused of genocide. The amendment was ultimately watered down, but would still trigger a debate on any agreement signed with a country that a parliamentary committee has credibly accused of committing genocide.

Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020: A sanctions regime that the UK can apply on individuals and entities it accuses of serious human rights violations, including murder, torture, or forced labor. The UK government has sanctioned Russians, Saudis, North Koreans, and Burmese under this law, and more recently, four Chinese Communist Party officials and a government entity accused of violating the rights of minorities in Xinjiang.

Sino-British Joint Declaration: A United Nations treaty signed by Britain and China in 1948 to arrange for the transition of Hong Kong from British colonial control back to the Chinese government. In the agreement, China committed to ensuring special rights and freedoms for Hong Kong for a period of 50 years under the “one country, two systems” model. But the agreement is a source of major tension: The Chinese see it as a legacy of an unjust colonial regime, while the UK recently declared that China is in “a state of ongoing non-compliance” with its provisions.

The concepts

Global Britain: A term coined by former UK prime minister Theresa May in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 2016 to refer to her “ambitious vision for Britain after Brexit.”  It is generally understood to mean a Britain more engaged and active on the global stage and in international institutions, more agile in seeking trade and other partnerships with the world beyond the EU, and more committed to defending free trade and the rule of law.

Golden era: A whole-of-government approach to China inaugurated by UK prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne in 2015, which consisted of seeking as much Chinese investment as possible for the struggling British economy and deepening financial and economic ties. The golden era followed two years of diplomatic freeze-out on the Chinese side after Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in 2012. For UK hawks, it’s become a symbol of their government’s naive and market-oriented approach to China. Its architects defend it as realpolitik.

Belt and Road: An ambitious infrastructure financing scheme that is Chinese president Xi Jinping’s signature foreign and development policy. It aims to connect Asia to Europe by land, air, and sea through a network of bridges, highways, ports, and railroads, but also cables, digital platforms, and satellites. Xi hopes to use it to extend China’s influence globally. It’s been criticized for encouraging countries that cannot afford it to take on debt. Others say that’s not a fair assessment of an initiative that finances critical projects in developing countries where no other lenders dare to—and often restructures the loans (pdf) when the countries can’t pay them back.

The institutions

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): A development bank launched by China as Asia’s equivalent of the World Bank. The UK was the first major Western power to join the bank in 2015, during the golden era, despite strong US objections. Other countries, including Germany, followed.

World Trade Organization (WTO): The international body that facilitates trade between countries and governs disputes. China fought hard to be allowed into the WTO in the 1990s, and its accession in 2001 was a watershed moment in the country’s market reform and opening.