Be constructive but robust on China, says Cleverly

time:2023-06-09 00:26:10 source:The Washington Post

The foreign secretary has called for the UK to have a more constructive but robust relationship with China.

James Cleverly used a keynote speech in London to set out Britain's approach to Beijing.

He argued isolating China would be against the UK's national interest.

"No significant global problem - from climate change to pandemic prevention, from economic stability to nuclear proliferation - can be solved without China," he said.

Mr Cleverly also used his speech at the Lord Mayor's Easter Banquet at Mansion House to warn China against building up its military forces and risking "tragic miscalculation" in the Pacific.

In a departure from tradition, in which foreign secretaries use the annual address to set out their views on a range of foreign policy matters, Mr Cleverly devoted almost all of his speech to China.

The foreign secretary dismissed calls from some senior Conservatives to take a strictly hardline approach against China and instead argued that the UK must engage with Beijing to tackle "humanity's biggest problems".

"It would be clear and easy - and perhaps even satisfying - for me to declare some kind of new Cold War and say that our goal is to isolate China," Mr Cleverly said.

"It would be clear, it would be easy, it would be satisfying and it would be wrong. Because it would be a betrayal of our national interest and a wilful misunderstanding of the modern world."

But he urged China to be transparent about its military expansion and accused Beijing of "carrying out the biggest military build-up in peacetime history".

It comes after earlier this month China held military drills centred on the self-ruled island Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway province that will eventually be brought under Beijing's control - by force, if necessary.

The address, attended by foreign ambassadors and high commissioners, also condemned Chinese repression and pledged that the UK will continue highlighting the treatment of Uyghur people - the Muslim minority Beijing is accused of committing systematic human rights abuses against and detaining hundreds of thousands of in camps.

If Mr Cleverly's rapprochement towards China led to an invitation to visit the country for talks, it would be the first time a British minister has made such a trip since then-COP26 President Alok Sharma went to Tianjin for climate talks in 2021.

However, the foreign secretary's comments could anger Conservative backbenchers, some of whom want the government to adopt a tougher approach to Beijing.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss, who appointed Mr Cleverly in her previous role of foreign secretary in September, had urged ministers to ensure Beijing can never join the Indo-Pacific trade bloc - a trade pact featuring 11 Asia and Pacific nations.

And last year, former party leader Iain Duncan-Smith called China a "brutal, dictatorial, ghastly regime" in two separate TV interviews.

China is the world's most populous country with a 1.41 billion population and the world's second largest economy.

The UK's relationship with China has deteriorated in recent years following controversies including Chinese company Huawei's involvement in Britain's 5G network, concerns over threats to civil liberties in the former British colony of Hong Kong, and the threat of espionage and influence operations by China in the UK.

And in recent weeks, the popular video-sharing app TikTok was banned on all government electronic devices, amid ongoing global concerns about whether the Chinese government could gain access to their data.

It was only last year Mr Sunak used his own first foreign policy speech at Mansion House to say the so-called "golden-era" of relations with China was over and, along with the "naive idea" that more trade with the West would lead to Chinese political reform.

Instead, he said the UK had to replace wishful thinking with "robust pragmatism".

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