NEW: Liz Truss's China Commonwealth Strategy
A Beijing to Britain transcript and note
Following our publication of Rishi Sunak’s press release on China earlier this week, we’re pleased to say we’ve got our hands on Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s offering, due to be featured in the papers tomorrow. We will run the press release in its entirety so readers can form their own view, with some closing thoughts at the end.
In short, Truss is to announce that she plans to launch a ‘New Commonwealth Deal’ to “strengthen economic ties across the Commonwealth and ensure it acts as a vital bulwark to China.” This will involve offering countries access to a fast-track process to establish tailored, bilateral agreements as a way of offering them an alternative “growing malign influence” from Beijing.
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Press release in full
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TRUSS: I’LL STRENGTHEN COMMONWEALTH AS A COUNTERWEIGHT TO CHINA
Truss announces Commonwealth Deal to boost trade and strengthen economic security across vital group of freedom-loving nations
Trade deal will supercharge the advantages of Commonwealth membership and counter malign influence of China
Truss will ensure the Commonwealth sits at the heart of her plans for Global Britain
On the first day of the Commonwealth Games, Liz Truss has today (28 July) announced that she will launch a ‘New Commonwealth Deal’ to strengthen economic ties across the Commonwealth and ensure it acts as a vital bulwark to China.
The New Deal will expedite bilateral trade agreements with Commonwealth partners who play an increasingly important role in global geopolitics. By reducing trade barriers and restrictions, these agreements will supercharge the Commonwealth trade cost advantage, which is already 21 percent lower on average for trade between Commonwealth countries versus non-members, helping to lay the foundations for a prosperous future.
A Truss government will prioritise a model Commonwealth Trade template which partners will be invited to discuss during the early stages of her premiership. Once discussions progress past initial stages, countries will have access to a fast-track process to establish tailored, bilateral agreements.
Truss believes the Commonwealth - which is the largest group of nations that does not contain either China or Russia - has an increasingly important people (sic) to play in global geopolitics. It has growing heft on the world stage, making up a third of the global population, a collective GDP of $14.5 trillion (c14% of global GDP) and around 30% of the votes on the UN. 60% of the Commonwealth’s population are under the age of 30.
This will build on important work carried out by Truss, as Foreign Secretary, where she launched British International Investment, a revamped development finance institution that is investing £8 billion by 2025 in developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. She has prioritised this investment across Commonwealth countries to ensure nations have a clear alternative to strings-attached finance from regimes like China.
Liz Truss said:
“I will ensure the Commonwealth sits at the heart of my plans for Global Britain. As one of the largest groups of freedom loving democracies, we must ensure there are clear benefits to remaining a member of the Commonwealth and offer nations a clear alternative to growing malign influence from Beijing. Prioritising trade with countries across the Commonwealth will strengthen economic and security ties whilst also turbocharging opportunities for British businesses to access one of the world’s largest economic blocs.”
Campaign spokesperson said:
“Liz believes the Commonwealth is vital to countering the influence of China and other authoritarian regimes seeking to undermine democratic values and freedom. She believes trade and investment has a key role to play in stopping the growing Chinese influence where Beijing has used investment as a part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. As Prime Minister she will maximise all opportunities to strengthen economic and security ties across the Commonwealth.”
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If the discussion around utilising the Commonwealth as a trade bloc sounds familiar, that’s because it is. As we reported on just over a month ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently visited Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
During this meeting Johnson asked attendees to imagine:
“a miracle fertiliser, a fertiliser of business, that grew your business, that expanded your profits and cut your costs, by 21%. There is such a fertiliser…that fertiliser is called the Commonwealth…that fertiliser knocks 21 percent off the cost of trade between Commonwealth members. That’s 21 percent bigger profits if you do deals between the Commonwealth…that’s 21 percent efficiencies without the expense of management consultants.”
The 21% figure used by Truss’s press release seems to have been lifted directly from Johnson, who’s team also referenced bilateral deals in their press statements. So we have effectively ended up in a position were Truss has taken Johnson’s CHOGM rhetoric, wrapped it in her own Network of Liberty/countering China strategy vision, and presented it to Fleet Street to run as a new policy idea she’ll enact should she get into Downing Street.
In her defence, it is worth noting that Truss was also supposed to give a speech at the time outlining that the Commonwealth must become a “bulwark” against China, as reported by The Times (but not in the public domain, if actually delivered). So this is perhaps just a rehashed version of that speech too.
Like Sunak’s offerings on Monday, some will argue that this plan has flaws. They would say that it operates through a Western-values approach, ignoring realpolitik realities such as that India - which makes up some 60% of the population of the Commonwealth - has its own foreign policy vision. For example, Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipped CHOGM last month, instead participating in China’s BRICS Leaders’ Summit instead, hosted by President Xi Jinping, and India held off condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine despite initial Western pressure. Others may position that this plan gives little autonomy to many Commonwealth countries, who are now being asked to ‘choose a side’ by taking part in an explicitly anti-China economic bloc, forcing them into a scenario most want no part of.
However, it is again worth reiterating the point that this is not an idea that is meant to impress think tankers, China analysts or business leaders. Like Sunak’s recent offerings, these headlines are designed to grab media attention and show Truss has her own vision for tackling China in an effort to shore up the Conservative Member vote on this issue. Unlike Sunak, Team Truss can at least argue consistency in this vision.