Dealing with China is not a “comfortable chit chat over tea and biscuits”, the Foreign Secretary has said.
James Cleverly insisted it was important to maintain dialogue with Xi Jinping’s regime, as hawkish Conservatives urge him to take a harsher line with China over reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang province and Hong Kong.
In response to this criticism, the Foreign Secretary told The Telegraph his meetings and discussions with Chinese ministers are far from cosy chats.
Mr Cleverly told the newspaper: “In terms of defining diplomatic language, people need to really understand that engaging with China does not mean agreeing with China.
“Whenever I’ve had a conversation with a Chinese minister, whether face-to-face or over the phone, I have always highlighted the plight of the Uighur Muslims, I’ve always highlighted their posture towards Hong Kong.
“I’ve always criticised their decision to sanction my parliamentary colleagues and I’ve always demanded that they lift those sanctions.”
In a keynote address to the Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet in London last week, Mr Cleverly said the UK must engage directly with the country in order to promote stability across the globe.
But he also said the UK must be “unflinchingly realistic” about Beijing’s authoritarianism, as he warned it against invading Taiwan.
Mr Cleverly denied China should be classed as a “threat”, arguing its scale and complexity cannot be reduced to one-word descriptions.
Influential Conservative MPs including former minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns have previously called for the Government to take a harder stance with China.
Several Tory critics of Beijing, including Sir Iain, are subject to sanctions by the Chinese government.
Former prime minister Liz Truss recently joined calls for a tougher stance on China, calling on ministers to ensure that it does not join the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), an international trade agreement.
The short-lived premier, who once served as foreign secretary, also criticised moves by France’s President Emmanuel Macron to ask for China’s help in ending the war in Ukraine.