Daily Mail

Sunak and Xi to meet warn: Don’t go soft on

- From David Churchill at the G20 Summit in Bali

RISHI Sunak was accused of ‘going soft’ on Beijing last night as it emerged that he will meet President Xi Jinping today to call for greater UK-Chinese cooperatio­n.

The Prime Minister will meet the Communist leader on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali and ask him to be part of ‘coordinate­d action’ to tackle global issues such as climate change.

He will also say that the world’s problems can’t be solved without having China ‘in the room’ and that he wants a ‘frank and constructi­ve relationsh­ip’ with Beijing.

But it sparked a furious backlash from Tory MPs critical of China’s human rights record and influence. It is the second backlash the PM has sparked in a matter of days over his stance on relations with Beijing.

Ahead of the summit Mr Sunak softened his tone by branding the country a ‘challenge’ rather than a ‘threat’ to British values.

And it is in stark contrast to what he said during the Tory leadership contest, when he said ‘for too long’ Western leaders had ‘rolled out the red carpet and turned a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions’.

It is also a shift from the hardline stance of his predecesso­r Liz Truss, who wanted to declare China a threat to national security.

It comes after serious difference­s between the UK and China over the British Government banning tech firm Huawei from 5G mobile phone networks amid security threats, a crackdown in Hong Kong that has led to refugees fleeing here, and human rights abuses against China’s Uighur ethnic group.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, co-chairman of the Inter-Parliament­ary Alliance on China, said: ‘I am worried that the present prime minister, when he meets Xi Jinping, will be perceived as weak because it now looks like we’re drifting into appeasemen­t with China.

‘If we don’t have them down as a strategic threat, then nothing gets done on the ever-pressing threat that they pose... in what world are they not a threat to us?

‘They’re a threat to our values, they’re a threat to economic stability, they’re a threat to us because of their failure to cooperate with the World Health Organisati­on early on and that led to Covid spreading all over the world.’

Asked last night whether he was going soft on Beijing, Mr Sunak referred to China as both a ‘challenge’ and ‘threat’.

He said: ‘I’m very clear that China poses a systemic challenge to both our values and our interests, and it represents the single biggest state threat to our economic security.

‘And that’s why it’s right that we take the steps that are necessary to protect ourselves against that.’

Mr Sunak will be the first British PM to meet President Xi in person for nearly five years.

Downing Street is hoping to emulate the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Mr Xi on Monday, where there was a thawing of relations.

Last night the PM’s spokesman said: ‘ None of the issues that we are discussing at the G20 – the global economy, Ukraine, climate change, global health – none of them can be addressed without coordinate­d action by the world’s major economies. And of course, that includes China.

He said the PM wanted more cooperatio­n and a ‘frank and constructi­ve’ relationsh­ip. But when Mr Sunak was running to be PM, he said: ‘China is the biggest longterm threat to Britain and the world’s economic and national security – as the Director General of MI5 and Director of the FBI have said.

‘At home, they are stealing our technology and infiltrati­ng our universiti­es. And abroad, they are propping up Putin’s fascist invasion of Ukraine by buying his oil and attempting to bully their neighbours, including Taiwan.

‘They torture, detain and indoctrina­te their own people, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, in contravent­ion of their human rights.’

Tory MP Alicia Kearns, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, welcomed Mr Sunak’s meeting with Mr Xi.

She said: ‘It is important they meet to prevent miscalcula­tions. We cannot simply cut off China, we must work to create the space for dialogue, challenge and cooperatio­n.’

Today the PM meets Mr Biden.

MI6 chief Richard Moore last year named Chinese expansioni­sm as one of the biggest threats to British life.

Beijing was engaged in large- scale espionage in the UK, he said, and wanted to use technology to create ‘a web of authoritar­ian control’.

During his Tory leadership campaign, Rishi Sunak seemed to have got the message, echoing his words of warning.

Yesterday however, the PM’s tone had softened to a worrying extent. Rather than being a clear and present danger, China was now merely a ‘systemic challenge’.

As the world’s second biggest economy after the US, it makes sense to maintain cordial diplomatic and trade relations with China where possible. But Mr Sunak must not be seduced (as David Cameron was) into treating it as a trusted friend.

And letting Chinese technician­s near our vital infrastruc­ture, would be folly – as Boris Johnson realised when he banned the communicat­ions company huawei from helping develop the 5G telecoms network.

China is an oppressive surveillan­ce state bent on world domination. All dealings should be approached with extreme caution and good faith should not be assumed.

 ?? ?? Blue suede shoes: Rishi Sunak in loafers and traditiona­l batik shirt at summit dinner last night
Blue suede shoes: Rishi Sunak in loafers and traditiona­l batik shirt at summit dinner last night

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