The UK has “no alternative” but to enhance its economic relationship with China in spite of its many human rights abuses, according to a trade minister.
Graham Stuart told a House of Lords committee today that “China offers more opportunity to the UK economy than any other market” and that a more comprehensive economic relationship should be forged, despite the fact “they are a fundamentally authoritarian regime, therefore we will never see eye to eye”.
The UK has had a frosty relationship with China over the past year, after Boris Johnson hit Beijing with a series of sanctions over its democracy crackdown in Hong Kong and its ethnic cleansing campaign against Uyghur Muslims.
Chinese telecoms giant Huawei was last year banned from contributing to the UK’s 5G network beyond 2027 due to concerns the Chinese state would use it for espionage – a claim Huawei denies.
China’s role in covering up the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic is also set to be a hot topic at this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall.
Foreign minister minister Nigel Adams told the House of Lords’ International Relations Committee today that China falsely “seeks to project themselves as a defender of multilateralism while pursuing its own agenda”.
“It’s clear China is seeking to erode the international values based system which was developed in the aftermath of World War II,” he said.
“[This is seen by] their attempts to…undermine open societies and democracies, the aggressive approach it takes to cyberspace and it’s approach to economic state craft.”
Despite this, China was labelled as a systemic competitor in the government’s integrated review of foreign and defence policy this year and not a systemic threat, like Russia and Iran.
The white paper said the UK would continue to deepen economic ties with Beijing, while also calling it out for its poor record on human rights and its increasingly aggressive international posturing.
Stuart said China “is not just the world’s second largest economy and largest trading nation in goods”, but also the “only major economy to have positive GDP growth” last year.
“I hope over time by engaging, by working with them and not by seeking to isolate a quarter of humanity – while accepting they are a fundamentally authoritarian regime therefore we will never see eye to eye – I that you would see there is an alternative other than working with allies to project our values while nevertheless trading with this regime,” he said.