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UK policy towards China

Published Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Westminster Hall debate on ‘UK policy towards China’ has been scheduled for Tuesday 7 May 2019 from 4.30pm to 6.00pm. The debate has been initiated by Leo Docherty MP.

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As the UK anticipates a post-Brexit future, the nature and terms of its future relationship with a ‘rising China’ is one of the most important foreign policy issues that it must address. This relationship will unavoidably be particularly complex and multi-faceted.

Critics have argued that, since the coalition government of 2010-15, the official UK impulse has often been to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative in pursuit of an elusive ‘golden era’.

An April 2019 Foreign Affairs Committee report doubted whether, given the consolidation of the power of Xi Jinping in China, it would be appropriate today for the UK to commit itself to seeking such a close relationship.

A February 2019 RUSI report expressed concern that a post-Brexit UK could more be vulnerable to Chinese interference in its internal affairs.

Others worry that the UK will struggle to boost ties with China without generating disagreements with the country which has traditionally been its paramount ally, the US.

Defenders of the current UK government say that it is more willing to acknowledge that there will sometimes be a need for caution in how it conducts the relationship with China.

Here are just a few examples of just how complex and multi-faceted the relationship is between the UK and China today: 

  • The ongoing controversy over whether – and if so, how – the Chinese tech giant Huawei should be involved in the UK’s 5G telecoms network;
  • The postponement of a visit by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to China in February 2019, shortly after the previous Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, talked about sending the UK’s aircraft carrier to the South China Sea once it is in service (however, Philip Hammond, did attend the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in late-April);
  • Continuing concern that the UK is not doing enough to support human rights and democracy in its former colony, Hong Kong, as they come under increasing attack;
  • Official UK statistics revealing that there was an 11% growth in the number of UK visas issued to Chinese applicants in 2018, amounting to one-quarter of all the UK visas issued that year;
  • Growing cooperation between the two countries on foreign aid. Last week, the previous Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, welcomed China’s proposal to establish a ‘Multilateral Cooperation Centre for Development Finance’.

 

 

Commons Debate packs CDP-2019-0106

Authors: Timothy Robinson; Julie Gill; Jon Lunn

Topics: Asia, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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