Britain should officially designate China as a "threat" instead of a "systemic competitor," according to a report by members of Parliament (MPs), which says this must be done in tandem with fading out reliance on Beijing.
"The Government must tread a fine line—explicitly acknowledging the UK’s national security interests, and shoring up our nation’s resilience, while also continuing to deal with China as an economic partner."
'Golden Era Is Over'Liz Truss had signalled a more hardline approach on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during her tenure as foreign secretary and during the campaign for what was to be her short-lived premiership. But she was out of office before the widely expected adoption of "threat" was officially enacted.
“Let’s be clear. The so-called golden era is over, along with a naive idea that trade would automatically lead to social and political reform,” Sunak said. “But nor should we rely on simplistic Cold War rhetoric.”
He said the UK will “make an evolutionary leap" in its approach, including strengthening defence of its values and the openness on which its prosperity depends and the economy at home, and standing up to competitors “not with grand rhetoric, but with robust pragmatism.”
Action, Not WordsThe committee report states that unless the government matches words with actions, any amped-up rhetoric toward Beijing may prompt a backlash that Britain would be ill-equipped to handle.
The report says: "If the UK is to take a meaningful stand against the Chinese government, we need to wean ourselves off our dependence on China."If we are more resilient to the PRC’s [People's Republic of China's] weaponisation of supply chains, we can be more effective on the world stage as a global player. Britain should stand absolute against interference in our own country by the PRC and this should be expressed within the IR [Integrated Review]."
Diplomats Withdrawn Over Consulate BeatingLast week, the government all but expelled six Chinese diplomats who were wanted by police for questioning over the assault of a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester at the Chinese Consulate in Manchester.
Several lawmakers had previously called on the government to expel the diplomats over the incident.
Boost Reliance on Critical InfrastructureLast week, the UK also imposed restrictions on the Chinese takeover of a shell company in relation to the security of an important UK electricity asset and the security of services provided to the UK National Grid.
Since the UK’s National Security and Investment Act came into effect, the UK has issued a dozen such notices, with seven of them targeting Chinese takeovers.
The FAC report said that ministers should simultaneously boost the UK’s resilience, cutting reliance on its economic partner for critical national infrastructure, energy security, consumer goods, and technologies.
The MPs also called for clarification on the UK’s security relationship with key European partners, saying they will be exploring further how this could be “formalised or institutionalised.”
They said the IR is right to highlight the UK’s “increasing interest” in the Indo-Pacific but criticised the government’s use of the word “tilt” in this context, arguing it “sent the wrong message to the international community.”
“The Government cannot afford to be seen to tilt away from the Euro-Atlantic,” the report stated.
“The Government should explain if, and how, it expects the UK to contribute to European security while maintaining the Indo-Pacific tilt, particularly at a time of considerably constrained resources.”
A government spokesman said: “We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests—but as the FAC’s report acknowledges, we cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs.
“We are evolving our approach to China into one of robust pragmatism—something which is also recognised and understood by our allies and partners.
“We continue to speak out to defend human rights, and with our allies and partners we’re managing this sharpening competition by improving our resilience, and in particular our economic security.”
The government insisted the UK’s Euro-Atlantic security bonds are “stronger than ever,” stressing the country is “evolving” its wider post-Brexit relations with Europe while demonstrating its “long-term commitment” to the Indo-Pacific.