Relations between Asia’s leading power and the U.K have remained strained since China’s stagnating economy and relentless new outbreaks of COVID-19 have found it looking to increase its influence in the West.
In a recent development, tensions are boiling over after Beijing has reportedly pressed London to respond to Argentina’s demand that it relinquish control of the Falkland islands, known as Las Malvinas in Spanish.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) embassy in Britain reiterated Beijing’s stance on Feb. 6, a day after a furious response from London to a joint statement from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his Argentinian counterpart Alberto Fernandez calling for Argentina to be given “full exercise of sovereignty” over the islands.
Xi and Fernandez raised the Falklands issue during a meeting in Beijing over the weekend and spoke about their “deep friendship,” stirring already tense relations between China and Great Britain.
Argentina reaffirms loyalty to Beijing
The Chinese regime has clashed with countries in the West over recent diplomatic boycotts of its Winter Olympics due to China’s human rights record, as well as the AUKUS deal – an initiative that would enable Australia to acquire nuclear submarines.
Beijing has also rejected London’s criticism of its handling of Hong Kong affairs, which it regards as an internal matter. The joint statement also highlighted that Argentina “reaffirms its adherence to the one-China principle,” a reference to Beijing’s claim over the self-ruling democracy of Taiwan.
“China and Argentina agree to carry on with close communication and coordination in international affairs, and safeguard the overall interests of the two countries and other developing countries,” the statement read.
Argentina is the latest country in Latin America to bolster ties with Beijing.
Late last year, Nicaragua officially cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing Beijing as the official representative of China.
On Dec. 9, 2021, the Nicaraguan government said in a statement that “There is only one China,” referring to the country’s “One-China” policy and announced the formal cut from the island.
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“The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents all of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory,” the statement from Nicaragua’s government read, adding that bilateral relations between the two nations would be immediately halted.
UK: Falklands remain ‘part of British family’
In response to the growing influence of the Chinese regime in South and Central America, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss responded via Twitter on Feb. 7 that the U.K “completely rejects any questions over sovereignty of the Falklands,” adding that “the [islands] remain part of the British family.”
The government of Argentina believes the Falklands were illegally taken from them in 1833 and invaded the British colony in 1982. The United Kingdom responded by deploying troops to the region resulting in Argentina losing the two-month war for the South Atlantic archipelago.
The conflict claimed the lives of 649 Argentine military personnel and civilians, as well as 255 British soldiers.
However, Argentina still claims the islands today. In response to Argentina’s claim, London says the Falklands are a “self-governing entity under the protection of the British monarchy” and sternly rejected the Argentine government’s calls for sovereignty.
During their meeting, Xi and Fernandez also pledged closer economic cooperation and signed a memorandum of understanding on Argentina joining the “Belt and Road Initiative” – Xi’s signature project aimed at building new infrastructure and expanding China’s economic influence across the globe.
China has overtaken Brazil as Argentina’s main commercial partner, and if talks with Beijing remain on track, the second largest country in South America could become the first of four major economies in the region to join the initiative.
“Belt and Road Initiative integration won’t be a paradigm shift but rather a continuation of broader trends of growing Argentina-China engagement,” said Pepe Zhang, director and fellow researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
Geng: ‘Western colonialists are long gone’
Speaking at a conference on decolonization in June last year, China’s deputy permanent representative to the U.N. Geng Shuang called for all forms of colonialism in the world to end. Also during the session, Argentina tried to initiate negotiations with Britain over the islands’ sovereignty.
“Today in the 21st century, the days when Western colonialists had free rein are long gone,” Geng said, adding that “colonial thinking, power politics and bullying” continued to manifest in international relations.
“[They] have a serious impact on global order, and severely undermine the sovereignty, security and development rights of the countries concerned, as well as their political, economic, and social stability.”