WHO among us did not honestly see this coming? I’m talking about the latest face-off between the UK and China over Hong Kong. Everything about this current crisis was so predictable. Quite simply, the bottom line here is that Britain has been caught flatfooted.

For a long time now the UK Government has been complacent not just about Beijing’s increasing grip on Hong Kong, but in its response to what clearly has been a shift in global geopolitics at which China lies at the heart.

Just how many warnings did Boris Johnson’s Government need that China was prepared to pile on the pressure and that things were seriously going to come unstuck in UK-China relations if Britain did not up its game in response?

First there was the burgeoning US-China trade war that made abundantly clear that both Washington and Beijing were expecting Britain to chose sides.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic and yet more clear indicators that China was prepared to use its economic clout as a geopolitical weapon or bargaining chip. Just ask the Australians

about that.

After Australia had the temerity to ask for an inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus, Beijing didn’t waste a second in piling tariffs on Australian barley exports and stopped buying the country’s beef. It was not an insignificant move when you consider China is the largest export market for Australian grain.

If ever there was a lesson in the hardball measures China is prepared to take when it interprets a political “manoeuvre” against its interests, then this was it.

Then just when the UK dithers over its strategy towards China, the inevitable happens. China imposes a new security law on Hong Kong that restricts the territory’s independence and Britain finally responds by pitching itself into a fight with one of its largest economic partners.

While I have great sympathy with the citizens of Hong Kong over the plight in which they now find themselves, I cannot say the same about the UK Government.

The jam in which the UK now finds itself is in great part of its own making. It’s a result of complacency and the sort of foreign policy miscalculation that has become a leitmotif under the Tory Government.

Now that is has finally responded in offering Hong Kong citizens a path to settlement in the UK, Boris Johnson’s Government has only deepened the animosity in Beijing, or so it appears. I say that because let’s be candid, many of those the UK is offering citizenship to are precisely the people China will be glad to see the back of in Hong Kong.

Educated, politically questioning, desirous of at least the one country two system of governance or at best full independence for Hong Kong, China will doubtless say good riddance to them. In other words the UK has offered a perfect solution to get shot of the “upstarts” and give China the chance to consolidate its control.

We hear much about how Hong Kong will lose talented people from its enormous business sector, but Beijing will lose little sleep over that. In one fell swoop, China’s president, Xi Jinping, gets rid of many “tiresome” influential Hong Kong activists while getting his placemen in to run the territory’s lucrative business infrastructure.

For let’s be frank, business is business and it will go on in Hong Kong, with many UK, US and other companies. The US can go ahead and impose its prospective sanctions, including against those banks that do business with “entities” found to violate the law or undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy or restrict its freedoms, but big business will, as always, find ways around this.

Only collective international co-operation and action like that initiated by the EU and European Parliament can make such sanctions or other measures bite in a way that forces China sit up and take notice. Make no mistake, these need to be global to work.

But while such co-ordinated efforts are an obvious first step, political differences between Brussels and Washington, combined with the alarming dependency of so many states on China, will make it difficult to implement. Still, they must be tried.

For now, the UK Government’s response has been to throw open its doors to three million British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders. Johnson’s policy is typical of how his Government reacts to most things. It’s all the more striking, too, when you consider that John Major’s Tory government – with the support of Labour leader Tony Blair – refused the same right to Hong Kongers before the 1997 handover to China.

That Johnson has opened the doors is only correct given that the UK is a guarantor of the rights of Honk Kongers. But as Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Studies at King’s College London, pointed out this week, Johnson’s decision to “handout passports like confetti” is “fatuous, gestural, grandstanding politics.”

In other words, it’s precisely the same kind of flawed political and foreign policy posturing that underpinned the Tory Government’s “Global Britain” approach to doing business and engaging with the world which got it into the mess it now finds itself.

Even as far back as 2015, the UK was declaring a “new golden era” in relations with China, while Johnson himself spoke of the his Government being “very pro-China”.

Buccaneering Brexiteers of course took it upon themselves to couch all this in a language of creating an “outward-looking country,” with no need of our European neighbours. But as the Hong Kong crisis has starkly exposed we now know better.

In terms of leverage, short of working with other nations including the EU, Johnson’s options are limited in bringing pressure to bear on China right now.

This, too, before the thorny question of whom the UK might expect to fill the economic void were Beijing to decide to reduce its investment in the UK. America?

For the time being Johnson’s “boldness” in throwing open the UK’s doors to those from Hong Kong serves as a convenient distraction from his chaotic handling of the pandemic here at home.

But the glaring reality is that it’s going to take more than dishing out visas to find a “route” out of the tight corner the UK Government now finds itself over future relations with China.