London: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that the “so-called golden era” of bilateral ties is over in the face of the ‘systemic challenge’ posed by the Chinese regime to British values and interests.
Sunak said he wants to “evolve” the UK’s approach towards one of Asia’s largest economies as he criticized the country’s human rights record in his first major foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor of London’s Banquet this week.
However, he did acknowledge that the UK “cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs” and therefore his approach would be one of “robust pragmatism” taking a “longer-term view”.
“Let’s be clear, the so-called ‘golden era’ is over, along with the naïve idea that trade would lead to social and political reform,” said Sunak, with reference to the phrase coined during the David Cameron-led Conservative Party government around seven years ago.
In his first foreign policy speech, PM Sunak reiterated the UK’s commitment to a Free Trade Agreement with India as part of his country’s wider focus on enhancing ties with the strategic Indo-Pacific region that he says will deliver over half of global growth by 2050.
“But nor should we rely on simplistic Cold War rhetoric. We recognize China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism,” he said.
Sunak was critical of China’s handling of the ongoing anti-lockdown protests in the country and the arrest and beating of a BBC journalist over the weekend, saying instead of listening to people’s concerns, the government “has chosen to crack down further”.
Sunak’s first major foreign policy speech comes soon after a proposed meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia earlier this month, had to be cancelled in favor of an emergency meeting of NATO members over developments in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
UK summons Chinese envoy as BBC journalist ‘assaulted’
The Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom has been called to the Foreign Office after a diplomatic spat erupted over police “beating” a BBC journalist in Shanghai.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly summoned Zheng Zeguang, China’s senior Ambassador, to Whitehall to explain the treatment of Ed Lawrence, who was jailed while reporting rallies against Xi Jinping’s zero-covid policy, which includes harsh lockdown restrictions.
According to the source, the BBC has made it known that one of its journalists was detained and abused by police while reporting the protests. Downing Street described Lawrence’s treatment as awful and disgraceful.
At a news conference in Beijing foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the BBC is playing the victim. Britain was also accused of hypocritical double standards by the Foreign Ministry. However, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan reacted angrily to Beijing, questioning whether the Chinese government was telling the entire truth about the incident