Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is set to embark on a visit to Beijing on Wednesday against the backdrop of criticism from MPs regarding the Government’s approach to China.
In the first visit to China by a UK Foreign Secretary in more than five years, Mr Cleverly will engage in bilateral meetings with Chinese officials, addressing issues ranging from climate change to international security, while emphasising Beijing’s responsibility on the global stage.
The trip takes places as the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) calls for a more structured and comprehensive approach to dealing with China’s assertiveness and its potential impact on the UK’s interests and global stability.
In a new 87-page report focused on the “Tilt to the Indo-Pacific” announced in the Integrated Review, MPs highlighted the urgency of an unclassified China strategy that encompasses not only trade and security but also diplomatic engagement, human rights, and technological cooperation.
The report concludes that there appears to be “confusion across Whitehall about the Tilt to the Indo-Pacific, stemming from a failure to explain the policy” and urges that all relevant ministers are briefed on the higher classification version of the China strategy.
MPs on the committee also called for the Government to recognise that the repeated attacks on Hong Kong dissidents are part of a wider Chinese Communist Party policy of repression and to proactively communicate the unacceptability of such a policy directly with representatives of the Chinese government.
The Tory chair of the committee Alicia Kearns said: “Today’s report is a thorough assessment of the UK’s policy on the Indo-Pacific; the result of two years of evidence gathering and research.
“The Indo-Pacific is a vast and varied geopolitical region, home to over half of the world’s population and set to continue to grow as a major economic powerhouse. The era of the Indo-Pacific is here.
“In any conversation about the Indo-Pacific, China looms large. China’s global ambitions and desire to rival the reach and influence of the West were made clear at the recent BRICS summit, but the writing has been on the wall for years. It’s only by shoring up our networks in the Indo-Pacific that we can temper China’s economic and political expansionism, offering a viable, democratic alternative to Indo-Pacific states.”
She argued that for many years the Foreign Affairs Committee has advocated the need to balance economic cooperation with caution in the UK’s dealings with China, adding: “The confidential, elusive China strategy is buried deep in Whitehall, kept hidden even from senior ministers across Government. How can those implementing policy – and making laws – do so without an understanding of the overall strategy?
“The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report highlighted the incoherence in the Government’s approach to China. Our report goes even further and calls for Government to publish an unclassified China strategy.
“Strengthening our diplomatic, defensive and economic ties in the Indo-Pacific is critical – if the West leaves a vacuum, China will eagerly fill it.
“Resilience and deterrence must be at the core of our foreign policy. Concentrations of power can easily end up in the wrong hands. Diversifying our supply chains, particularly our supply of semiconductors, will protect us in the long term.”
On Taiwan, which she described as an “important ally and partner of the UK”, Ms Kearns said: “The Government should stand shoulder to shoulder with Taiwan, making clear that attempts to undermine Taiwanese self-determination are unacceptable.”
Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the success of his opposite number’s visit would be determined by whether he can secure an end to Chinese sanctions on British parliamentarians.
“The Government now needs to demonstrate that it can get a grip on the UK-China relationship by securing tangible diplomatic wins in Britain’s interests,” he said.
“The first test that will determine the success of James Cleverly’s visit to China will be whether or not he can secure an end to Chinese sanctions placed on British parliamentarians.”
Senior sources pointed to the Foreign Secretary’s Mansion House speech in April as giving the full picture of the UK Government’s views on China and rejected the FAC’s criticism.
In response to the call for the full, unclassified China strategy to be published, senior figures in Government said everything they were comfortable with putting in the public domain already had been.
In his Mansion House speech, Mr Cleverly spoke about the need for engagement and balanced policy towards China, highlighting the complexities of its history and current global role.
He stressed the importance of safeguarding national security, deepening cooperation with partners, and addressing human rights concerns while fostering open and stable relations