Rishi Sunak on Monday warned that the so-called “golden era” of UK relations with China was over, however he signalled his willpower to interact with Beijing as he stopped wanting describing the superpower as a “threat”.
The new prime minister, in an implicit criticism of the pro-China insurance policies of predecessor David Cameron, mentioned there had been a “naive idea that trade would lead to social and political reform”.
He additionally criticised China’s dealing with of protests towards Beijing’s zero-Covid coverage — together with “assaulting” BBC journalist Ed Lawrence — and mentioned the nation posed “a systemic challenge to our values and interests”.
But in an indication that he needs to interact with Beijing, Sunak mentioned in a significant overseas coverage speech: “We cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs — to global economic stability or issues like climate change.”
In phrases which are more likely to concern some Tory MPs who’re China hawks, Sunak mentioned the west would collectively “manage this sharpening competition, including with diplomacy and engagement”.
He added this could be accompanied by steps to scale back Britain’s financial dependency on China. The UK has banned use of 5G cell phone networks made by Huawei.
The prime minister’s speech on the lord mayor’s banquet on the Guildhall in London was an try and map out a brand new overseas coverage by a politician who, till now, has seen worldwide affairs by way of an financial lens.
Sunak, throughout greater than two years as chancellor, warned the then prime minister Boris Johnson in regards to the financial dangers of antagonising the EU and of a extra hostile strategy to China.
China hawks within the Conservative get together concern Sunak will take a softer line in direction of Beijing. As chancellor, he had deliberate a UK-China monetary summit this yr earlier than aborting the occasion.
Tory MPs have voiced rising alarm in regards to the affect of China throughout the UK following the sanctioning of seven parliamentarians by Beijing, together with former Conservative chief Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss adopted a hawkish place, suggesting in the course of the Tory management contest in the summertime that China could be classed as a “threat”.
“Truss was along the right lines when it came to China, but Sunak will need a nudge in the right direction,” mentioned one senior backbench Conservative MP. “Sunak’s instincts are like many in the Treasury — to view China as an economic investment rather than engage with it as a threat.”
Sunak mentioned he needed stronger ties with Europe after Brexit, together with by participating with the European Political Community, a brand new safety grouping championed by French president Emmanuel Macron.
But he added: “This is not about greater alignment. Under my leadership we’ll never align with EU law.” He mentioned Britain would work with European neighbours on points reminiscent of power and unlawful migration.
Meanwhile Sunak pledged that the UK would stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” following Russia’s invasion.
“We will maintain or increase our military aid next year,” he mentioned. “And we will provide new support for air defence, to protect the Ukrainian people and the critical infrastructure that they rely on.”
Sunak this month met Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and outlined a brand new £50mn bundle of UK defence assist together with 125 anti-aircraft weapons.
“Sunak is very inexperienced and is regarded as a work in progress,” mentioned John Kampfner, government director of the UK within the World Initiative at Chatham House, the worldwide affairs think-tank.
“But he has a great advantage in that he’ll be cut slack by our foreign allies because of who he is not rather than who he is. Diplomats will be relieved that the UK appears to be led by someone who is sombre and level headed.”
“Sunak is trying to show that ‘robust pragmatism’ is an act of radical management of the status quo, rather than defaulting into what his critics have characterised as being similar to 1930s appeasement,” mentioned Sam Hogg, China-UK analyst and founding father of intelligence briefing Beijing to Britain,