Rishi Sunak has said he supported a landmark meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping at the G20 summit as he signals his intention for a more collaborative relationship with Beijing.
The Prime Minister said “China poses significant challenges to our values and to our interests and indeed our economic security”, but that “it is also right to engage in dialogue where that can make a difference in solving some of the pressing global challenges we face”.
Biden and Xi’s meeting was the first between UK and US leaders in years, with both leaders signalling their intention for a peaceful relationship.
US-China relations are at their lowest point in decades, after Donald Trump’s trade war, China’s expansion into the South China Sea, Beijing’s freedom of speech crackdown in Hong Kong and the ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Biden said that “we’re not looking for conflict” with China, while Xi’s foreign affairs minister said ” US and China should show the world that they are able to manage and control their differences”.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, Sunak said: “I very much supported President Biden in his meeting with President Xi. We discussed, the [US] President and I discussed it at length.
“I believe that our approach to China is aligned entirely with that of the US and indeed our other allies like Canada and Australia.
“Of course China poses significant challenges to our values and to our interests and indeed our economic security. It’s right we take steps to defend ourselves against them, but it is also right to engage in dialogue where that can make a difference in solving some of the pressing global challenges we face.”
The UK’s position toward China has been increasingly hawkish over the past three years and ex-PM Liz Truss signalled her intention to label China as an official “threat” in an updated integrated review of foreign policy.
Boris Johnson had previously enraged senior Beijing officials by banning Chinese telecoms firm Huawei from constructing the UK’s 5G network and for slapping sanctions on China for its freedom of speech crackdown in Hong Kong.
Sunak said during the Tory leadership race that China was the largest threat the UK faces and increased his anti-Chinese Communist Party rhetoric.
He has softened that rhetoric over the past week, which has begun to spark anger from China hawks across the House of Commons.
Labour MP Chris Bryant said “the concentration camps in the Xinjiang region continue, as does genocide, and the suppression of human rights in Hong Kong continues”.