G20 Special, China no longer an official threat, Trade Talk, Defence Secretary on Taiwan
A Beijing to Britain briefing
This week saw a cross-party, cross-leadership acknowledgement that a different approach to UK-China relations may be needed. “Our approach to China is aligned entirely with that of the US, and indeed our other allies…of course China poses significant challenges to our values, interests and economic security…but it is also right to engage in dialogue where that can make a difference in solving some of the global pressing challenges.” Thus spoke Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, debriefing the House of Commons following his trip to Indonesia for the G20. “We do not underestimate the challenges China poses to global security, and we must defend the human rights of the Uyghur and democracy in Hong Kong”, agreed his opponent, Labour’s leader Keir Starmer, “but our approach must be measured, and it is in our interest to work with China on the climate crisis, trade…and isolating Putin.” Change is afoot.
As we explore in today’s Briefing, Rishi Sunak is still developing his foreign policy, particularly around China. At its core, it appears to be driven by economic pragmatism soaked in a realpolitik assessment of the global stage, and guided by America and other regional allies. How far the intelligence establishment, Parliamentarians and the Whitehall apparatus back this approach will be worth watching closely. In the short term, there are those who will see Sunak’s statement as effectively calling for a reset and return to the thinking that underpinned the Golden Era. This would be, in our view, the wrong assessment. Instead, this looks like the beginnings of an effort to stabilise the relationship, rather than reset it to the Golden Era goodwill, hence why rhetoric and action on issues like national security and economic dependency remain. A key test for the Prime Minister in the coming months will be how effectively he can communicate this approach to Parliament, and if he can harness the collective might of the civil service behind one clear agenda.
Elsewhere in today’s Briefing, we unpack the intervention around Newport Wafer Fab and examine potential means for it to be challenged. We also analyse top-level Government communications on trade, including the latest statistics between both China and the UK, and examine the pressure building on Downing Street to remove Chinese surveillance companies from supply chains.
Some of the more eye-catching questions and tweets from Westminster dwellers this week
Catherine West (Labour, Shadow Minister for Asia) asked “the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, whether he has considered further action against relevant Chinese officials in the UK following the incident at the Chinese consulate in Manchester.”
Iain Duncan Smith (Conservative, IPAC) tweeted “The UK government is either being completely ignorant or deliberately obtuse in failing to crackdown on Chinese police stations operating in the UK.”
Sunak and Xi’s nearly meeting
A change in tone
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attend the G20 meeting in Indonesia this week. As we have discussed in previous briefings, it was the first major foreign policy outing for the new Prime Minister, where he could set out his ambitions for Global Britain - and potentially meet General Secretary Xi Jinping. It’s worth unpacking the days rolling up to the G20, because in hindsight, it looks like Downing Street pulled off a shrewd example of rolling the pitch (the art of preparing the media for policy announcements).