Rishi Sunak has said the UK and China need to stay in dialogue to solve “big, global challenges” in a backdown from his hawkish stance during the Tory leadership contest.
The Prime Minister today said China was a “systemic challenge both to our values and our interests” and the “biggest threat to our economic security”, while also saying the UK must still work with the growing superpower.
Sunak said during the Tory leadership contest that China was the “biggest long-term threat to Britain” and pledged to crackdown on Beijing as he tried to appease China-sceptic Tory members.
Ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss was planning on changing China’s official status in the UK’s integrated review of foreign and defence policy from a “systemic challenge” to a “threat”.
Sunak’s language during the G20 summit in Indonesia has suggested he will not be making the same move in a decision that will infuriate a section of China-sceptic Tory MPs.
The Prime Minister told Sky News: “I think our approach to China is one that is very similar to our allies, whether that’s America, Australia or Canada or other countries I’m talking with … here at the G20 summit.
“It’s an indisputable fact of the global economy that China is a big part of it. If we want to solve big, global challenges like public health, like Russia and Ukraine, fixing the global economy or indeed climate change, it’s important to have a dialogue with China as a part of solving those challenges.”
Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by China, told Politico today that Sunak’s comments were a “cop out”.
“The saddest part of this is that President Xi Jinping will see this about-turn as a sign of weakness by the PM,” he said.
Sunak has said he is hopeful that he will be able to meet Chinese Premier Xi Jinping before the end of the G20 summit.
Xi and President Joe Biden had a three-hour meeting yesterday – the first meeting between Chinese and US leaders in years.
Biden said that “we’re not looking for conflict” and that “I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War”, after years of worsening relations between the two superpowers.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, who was also at the meeting, said: “The US and China should show the world that they are able to manage and control their differences, avoiding misjudgments or fierce competition sliding toward clashes and confrontation.”