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By Dingli Shen

Respecting Brexit

Jul. 13, 2016  |     |  0 comments


With the referendum of June 23, 2016, Britain has decided to leave the EU. Though this is controversial, there is good reason to respect the outcome of this form of British democracy.


Those who argue for Brexit reckon that by quitting the EU, the UK could save its cost as a member of the union. On the one hand, there are financial costs, as Britain may spend more than it could reap by staying within the EU. Surely this argument deserves to be debated, as over time Britain could actually incur more by counting all indirect costs — economic and political — associated with exiting the European Union. At present, Britain has already felt the pain due to the falling exchange rate of the Pound Sterling.


On the other, there are security costs. With the rising wave of terrorism and refugees, the EU is increasingly porous when facing these threats. With millions of refugees from Syria and elsewhere pouring into the union, a number of EU members are vehemently refusing to take any of them. Not all countries have the willingness and capacity as Germany to take in one million refugees in one year. Given rampant terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, Britain might feel lucky for not being part of the Schengen Area. To avoid terrorism, it could do better by disassociating itself with the EU.


As far as Brexit is concerned, there is a balance between economic benefits and security goods. Many Britons might not have thought through the economic and political impacts of leaving the EU, as they have not been properly informed of such consequences. However, even if they are knowledgeable about the negative outcome, the majority of them may still choose Brexit rather than Bremain.


The reason is that between economy and security, the latter shall always come first. This is why Americans supported the Bush administration’s launch of the Iraqi war, and then elected Obama to reverse the war. And despite international pressure, China, Israel, and India have all chosen the nuclear weapons option rather than abandon their nuclear wherewithal. Over time, they all benefit by prioritizing national security. Such realism has also prevailed in Pakistan, the DPRK, and every corner of the world. History has proven time and again — when a nation is determined to strengthen its security, this is likely to pay off eventually.


There is an argument that by leaving the EU, Britain’s international standing will fall. This is quite misleading. First, Britain lost its superpower status in 1945, and it has no intention of bringing it back. Second, Britain has secured its veto power in the UN Security Council for over 70 years, and quitting the EU poses no threat to this status. Third, since the end of the WWII, Britain’s international standing has been falling, especially with the loss of various colonies, but it has survived all this. Fourth, with Brexit, Britain may face renewed efforts for the independence of Scotland. However, the UK has managed losing Ireland. Is there much difference of a Great Britain with or without Ireland? Then, why losing Scotland would matter much to Britain in the long run?



A decoupled Britain and EU may have increased need for foreign investment and may be more keen for economic engagement with China.



Some say an EU without Britain will be weakened. Probably not. An EU with an absentminded Britain could be hurt more. A healthy EU shall admit potential new members when they are ready, but not because they are there. European integration should be a natural rather than an artificial process. When the EU was in a hurry to prematurely include the member states of the former Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Union, it pressurized Russia and induced the Crimean crisis, and invited internal unease within the EU due to unexpected human mobility, pressuring some existing members to quit. A strong EU should be a grouping which welcomes well prepared countries to join without pressing existing members to leave.


Some have argued that Brexit is against regional integration and hence civilization. This is even more absurd. Civilization is a growth of human development, which is not necessarily accomplished through integration or globalization. For instance, while China’s integration may be its own process of civilization, the disintegration of the former Soviet Union may not necessarily be a version of anti-civilization. Human development takes many forms. Regional integration at the cost of sovereign security does not automatically equate to a higher level of civilization. No matter Brexit or Bremain, as long as a decision is achieved through democracy, it shows the work and costs of civilization.


The Chinese should view Brexit with calm. In terms of the pressure of terrorism, China might be uninterested in absorbing any of those refugees. In this sense, China should not feel surprised about the phenomena of Trump and Brexit.


For decades, Beijing has claimed that “states’ independence, nations’ liberalization, and peoples’ revolution are irresistible historical trends.” Despite the EU process, the disintegration of the former Soviet Union as well as the former Yugoslavia have vindicated China’s prediction. In addition, the birth of Timor-Leste, Kosovo, as well as South Sudan have all indicated the counter process against integration. Both processes are facets of civilization, which co-exist at the same time, and could and should not be accounted with mere economic costs.


China respects Britain’s decision and finds both opportunities and challenges with Brexit. A “weakened” Britain and EU may be less able to import and this could possibly undermine China’s exports to each of them. Nevertheless, a decoupled Britain and EU may have increased need for foreign investment and may be more keen for economic engagement with China.


But under any circumstances, one should not expect an ideological delinking between Britain and the EU. No matter Brexit or Bremain, Britain, EU, and the US share common interests in economic cooperation with China, while disagreeing as a whole with China’s human rights, free-market status, and South China Sea position, etc.


There might be short-term difficulties when Britain and the EU negotiate for their future economic and trade modality. However, we can predict that that they will figure out a win-win pattern which will best serve their respective interests in the future. After all, they could find that a partnership without marriage might make them more comfortable, and eventually Europe and the world could all benefit from this new paradigm.

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