George Osborne has praised Boris Johnson for “seeing off the hotheads” in the Tory party who are calling for a more aggressive UK stance toward China.
Osborne said he saw “a lot of continuity” between Johnson’s China policy, announced in yesterday’s integrated defence and foreign policy review, and his and David Cameron’s, which built stronger ties with Beijing.
The government’s integrated review was criticised by Tory China hawks for not being tough enough on Beijing.
The review said the UK would “invest in enhanced China facing capabilities”, while adding that “open, trading economies like the UK will need to engage with China and remain open to Chinese trade and investment”.
China was also labelled as a “systemic challenge” in the review and not a threat to security, such a countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea.
The stance will likely ease tensions with China, after relations deteriorated over the past year over the UK’s reaction to a number of Chinese human rights abuses.
Intelligence and Security committee chair, and Tory MP, Julian Lewis criticised Johnson for displaying “the grasping naivety of the Cameron-Osborne years” when it came to China.
Johnson yesterday said that “those who call for an new Cold War on China or for us to sequester our economy entirely from China…are I think mistaken”.
Osborne told a House of Lords committee that he still stands by his and Cameron’s policy of forging stronger ties with Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping.
“China is changing, becoming more assertive, but the question of how you deal with it has not changed,” he said.
“And that to me is why I think Boris Johnson should be congratulated for seeing off the hotheads who want to launch some new Cold War with China and instead promoting an approach that is realistic about the threat that China poses but also wants to engage in the opportunity.
“Talks about increasing trade, talks about increasing investment from China and essentially tries to co-opt China rather than confront China and to me that was the approach back then and it is the approach today.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said on numerous occasions that Beijing broke the Sino-British treaty that governed the handover of Hong Kong by imposing draconian new security legislation in the region.
The new legislation makes it illegal to criticise the ruling Chinese Communist Party and was a springboard to further erosions of democratic norms in Hong Kong.
The UK offered visas to millions of Hong Kongers to leave the region.
UK sanctions have also been placed on China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s north, which the US has branded as genocide.
Equipment from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei was also banned last year from being used in the UK’s 5G infrastructure through fears it would be used by Beijing to conduct spying operations – a charge Huawei denies.
Former Number 10 aide Dominic Cummings said today that China had also been a threat to the UK by stealing British intellectual property.
“China and Russia have had extremely aggressive operations against this country to acquire British knowledge both legally and illegally, covertly and overtly,” he said.
“Cameron and Osborne did not take it seriously and left the country open in all sorts of ways and that’s one of the many areas where science and technology policy must change.”