UK warns against isolating China but urges Beijing to be open on military expansion

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London: Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says it is wrong to isolate China and classify the relationship with the superpower as a new Cold War.

But Cleverly is also urging Beijing to be more transparent about its military intentions, warning that “secrecy can only increase the risk of tragic miscalculation”.

He will make the remarks at the Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet where the foreign secretary traditionally sets out the country’s foreign policy vision. It was at last year’s event that then foreign secretary, Liz Truss, described Vladimir Putin as a “rouge operator”.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.Credit: AP

But this year, Cleverly will focus solely on China amid growing tensions over Taiwan and Beijing’s breakdown in relations with the United States, with the two countries locked in strategic competition.

In excerpts released by the foreign office, Cleverly will say that Britain should continue to engage robustly and constructively with China where their interests converge, including on trade, investment and climate change.

This is in stark contrast to recent comments by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who said that China was decoupling from the rest of the world whilst trying to make Western economies dependent on it.

But Cleverly said that no significant problem – from climate change to pandemic prevention, economic stability or nuclear proliferation – could be solved without working with China.

“It would be clear and easy – perhaps even satisfying – for me to declare a new Cold War and say that our goal is to isolate China,” he said.

“Clear, easy, satisfying – and wrong. Because it would be a betrayal of our national interest and a wilful misunderstanding of the modern world.”

China has repeatedly accused the West of trying to manufacture a new Cold War in an attempt to stifle its growth and its bid to rival the United States for global and economic dominance.

The excerpts released did not address China’s role in brokering any peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.

The relationship between Beijing and Moscow has come under further scrutiny following remarks made by China’s Ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, who said that Baltic states who gained independence from Soviet Occupation in the 90s, effectively had no sovereign status.

Beijing has since distanced itself from its envoy’s remarks, but they sparked swift condemnation across Europe, particularly in countries that doubt China’s ability to be an honest broker.

Cleverly urged China to be open about its reasons for its militarisation.

“The UK and our allies are prepared to be open about our presence in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“I urge China to be equally open about the doctrine and intent behind its military expansion because transparency is surely in everyone’s interests and secrecy can only increase the risk of tragic miscalculation.”

And he said that Britain will call out China if it breaks its international obligations or abuses on human rights, saying Beijing should not believe its own rhetoric about Western complaints about the treatment of Uyghurs.

“Just as we should try harder to understand China, I hope that Chinese officials will understand that when their government builds a 21st-century version of the Gulag archipelago, locking up over a million people at the height of this campaign, often for doing nothing more than observing their religion, this stirs something deep within us,” he said.

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