By The Economist at 1:34 PM 5/31/2020 (PDT)
Halfway through the Joint Crisis Committee’s fifth session, debate shifted abruptly. An hour after presenting their treaty to the British, the frustrated Chinese began to criticize the British Empire in an attempt to convince them they desperately needed to agree to their concessions.
The viceroy of Liangguang scorned the conviction of the British that they were still a mighty empire, calling them nothing more than “a measly island,” and promising that “the sun will set on the British Empire.”
The Imperial Commissioner insisted that “Britain is in an embarrassing state right now...they lost their colony in North America, and then lost another war with that same colony!”
The British responded to these affronts with anger, insisting that “the sun will not set on the British Empire” and trying to explain how the statement was false by pointing out the physics of sunsets. They also put some distance between themselves and the loss of their thirteen colonies, reminding the Chinese that those events happened over sixty years prior.
While Britain has so far refrained from throwing any inflammatory language back at the Chinese, they have continued to threaten war, with the advisor to the Malay states warning the Chinese that “War will be coming”.
The rhetoric said by both sides is a troubling development for the possibility of arriving at a peaceful solution. Not only does it further hostilities between the two parties, it wastes valuable time that could be spent negotiating. Rather than ignoring the slights they have received from the Chinese, the British have instead focused on correcting what they perceive as the other side’s hyperboles. Some frustration between the two sides is to be expected, but if the negotiations between the two sides deteriorates into a mud-slinging contest, a peaceful solution to China’s trade blockade may soon disappear forever.
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