Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has reportedly warned that the UK should not “pull the shutters down” on China, suggesting it would be counterproductive not to “engage closely and regularly” with Beijing.
The minister insisted it is in the national interest to take a nuanced approach towards the country, ahead of delivering a major speech next week on the bilateral relationship.
In an interview with The Guardian after the G7 summit of foreign ministers in Japan, he said: “China is big, it’s influential, it’s important. It has a huge technological heft.
“It has an incredibly important role to play in environmental issues, economic issues, and so we have got to – and therefore we will – engage closely and regularly with China, because it would be really, really, really counterproductive not to do so.”
“It is a group of countries which value high standards, environmental standards, ethical standards, product standards … and we have no intention of allowing those standards to be diluted,” he said.
Mr Cleverly’s comments could anger Tory backbenchers, many of whom hold a more aggressive stance on China.
It comes after former prime minister Liz Truss urged ministers to ensure Beijing can never join the Indo-Pacific trade bloc – concerns which were echoed by former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Ms Truss had been expected to designate China as a “threat” during her short-lived leadership, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has instead described the nation as a “systemic challenge”.
Mr Cleverly told The Guardian: “I get why a number of my colleagues are hawkish.
“But it’s not in their interest or my interest or anyone else’s interest to just pull the shutters down on this relationship, because China will carry on carrying on whether we engage with them or not.”
The Government’s updated blueprint for UK foreign and defence policy – the “refreshed” integrated review published last month – described China under Communist Party rule as representing an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge” to almost every aspect of Government policy and the everyday lives of British people.