MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) - At a superficial glance, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Asian itinerary could be called a "tea route" because tea leaves traversed the same road many centuries ago.
They went from China, which was the first to grow tea, to India, where the imported plants suddenly produced new varieties. As a result, the Brits changed their preferences and switched from Chinese to Indian tea. Globalization started long before the end of the 20th century, and the British Empire was a small part of this process.
It may be worth pondering over the symbolic character of British "tea ceremonies" at 10 Downing Street, where Brown welcomed the leaders of the Chinese, and later on the Indian community in Britain on the eve of his departure for Asia.
Yet, it is important to understand that Britain's current relations with the Asian giants are not a nostalgic twist, but a well-calculated and realistic effort to enter the new world. It is very different from the world which existed when Britain possessed Hong Kong, Weihaiwei and several quarters in Shanghai. Under Queen Victoria, 1,500 British officials and several thousand military ruled India, a 300-million-strong giant. Today's world has almost reversed if we look at it from the strength-and-weakness point. But the Brits should have a worthy place in it and they sure will.
At one time it seemed that Britain would not recover from the loss of its colonies and especially India. After all, bilateral relations were not limited to the language, railways and the legal system (for the Indians), and curry plus family albums (for the British). The two nations have been linked by a very strange love with strong elements of rivalry and irritation.
Be that as it may, but Britain revealed a genuinely Hobbit-like ability to survive and a shrewd intellect; it has long come to terms with the empire's disintegration and learnt its lessons for the most part. Gordon Brown understands very well that his visit amounts to the attempts of a non-leading European power ( Germany is likely to be the first in Europe) to make friends with two global giants. He may be planning to surpass EU neighbors like France, which is considerably ahead in developing relations with new Asia.
In China, the British Prime Minister mostly spoke about money. It has become clear since the last year's EU-China summit that the Europeans will no longer be teaching Western values to the Chinese at government level and instructing them to observe the human rights. Britain's trade with China amounts to $40 billion (same as Russia's). It would like to increase this figure and its share in Chinese trade in the framework of the EU's entire turnover with China ($330 billion in 2007).
The British would like to see in London Chinese investment companies, which would save the UK and the West in general from a potential financial crisis and become a transshipment point for the flow of their money to the West. Out of 200,000 Chinese students studying in Europe, 75,000 have chosen Britain but it is possible to achieve better results even in this sphere as well.
In India the picture is somewhat more complicated and interesting. The Indians have not yet matched China in trade with Europe in general and Britain in particular. But there are many things that are not expressed by figures. The biggest and most influential Indian Diaspora lives in the United States, but it is quite sizeable in Britain as well, and it is this diaspora that is now giving London a chance to join the Age of Asia. Incidentally, almost a half of rather weak Indian-Russian trade goes through London, because Russian and Indian business communities are primarily looking at the West, and only then at each other.
Watching London's demands to extradite Andrei Lugovoy, who is suspected of murder in Britain, and the case with the British Council's registration in Russia, the Russian public qualifies British behavior as a "colonial syndrome," and lack of ability to give up the vestiges of the Lord Curzon times (one of the former Indian Viceroys, by the way). But in case of China and India, London behaves in a very different way.
It remains to understand what the motives are. Do the British consider India and China to be more important than Russia? Why is Britain more emotional and sensitive to its relations with Russia than with China and India? At any rate, this is an interesting question.