Rishi says golden era of UK-China relations is over, but waters down hard talk

RISHI Sunak has watered down his hard-line stance against China – just a day after a BBC journalist was beaten up by police in Shanghai.

In a major speech at London’s Guildhall, the PM said that any idea trade with the Chinese Communist Party would lead to social reform abroad is “naïve”.


Rishi Sunak declared the ‘golden era’ of relations with China over in a major speech tonightCredit: sky news

But he added that “we simply cannot ignore China’s significance in world affairs”.

Before becoming PM he called the communist superpower “the biggest-long term threat to Britain”, but tonight he would only brand them a “systemic challenge”.

As protests erupted across China at brutal lockdowns, Mr Sunak insisted the UK and western allies must do more to talk to the Beijing regime. 

Speaking at Mansion House, he added: “We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.”

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Mr Sunak also insisted the “golden era” of relations between Britain and China is “over”.

He said: “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.”

The speech came as just yesterday a BBC journalist was beaten up and arrested for covering anti-Covid lockdown protests in Shanghai.

Footage showed at least four officers bundling Edward Lawrence to the floor in cuffs before picking him up and leading him away.

He was released after several hours.

Since gaining the keys to No10 the PM has massively watered tough talk on the brutal regime, and tonight accused China hawks in his party of using “simplistic Cold War rhetoric” to bash the state and call for harsher sanctions.

Ex-PM Liz Truss had vowed to officially mark China a threat to the nation, but Mr Sunak has so far refused – kicking a review of UK Defence policy into the New Year.

Mr Sunak said he will instead take an “evolutionary approach” to the CCP and other hostile states like Russia.

The strategy will involve making Britain “stronger economically”, so it doesn’t ever find itself dependent on tyrants like Mad Vlad Putin for vital resources like energy again.

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The PM also wants to use leadership in science, technology and military capability as a way to assert dominance in an increasingly competitive international arena.

The PM said: “Freedom and openness have always been the most powerful forces for progress. But they have never been achieved by standing still.

“Under my leadership we won’t choose the status quo. We will do things differently.

“We will evolve, anchored always by our enduring belief in freedom, openness and the rule of law and confident that in this moment of challenge and competition our interests will be protected… and our values will prevail.”

He called for “robust pragmatism” instead of a tougher stance, but sparked a furious backlash from Tory MPs.

Former leader Iain Duncan Smith added: “I do not agree with ‘robust pragmatism’ its a contradiction in terms… an attempt to sound tough, when you are being anything but on the very day a brave BBC journalist gets beaten up.

“The PM said China was a systematic threat and he really should not try to change that now.”

“They are not a competitor, they are a very serious, growing and burgeoning threat.

“They are guilty of genocide, of repression in Hong Kong and threatening Taiwan. “And with Covid, they completely screwed the global economy.”

Mr Duncan Smith added: “I don’t know how much more evidence the UK Government needs. You can’t return to business as usual.”

This evening Mr Sunak also called for the UK to “reinvigorate” relations with Europe in a bid to keep allies close.

And a week after getting back from Ukraine to visit war hero President Zelensky, he backed commitments to match war funding next year and stand by the war torn nation for “as long as it takes”.

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He said:  “We will maintain or increase our military aid next year. And we will provide new support for air defence, to protect the Ukrainian people and the critical infrastructure they rely on.

“By protecting Ukraine, we protect ourselves.”

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