Cleverly set to anger Tory backbenchers with post-Brexit China speech

James Cleverly on his G7 summit in Japan at Foreign Minister’s meeting

James Cleverly is on course for a clash with influential backbenchers with his decision to press ahead with a major speech on UK policy over China tomorrow. The Foreign Secretary is poied to address an invited audience including diplomats and business figures at Mansion House in the City of London as he outlines Britain’s first post-Brexit assessment of relations with the Communist Beijing government.

The speech will focus on the need for the UK not to cut diplomatic and other ties with China and maintain an open door relationship.

A source close to Mr Cleverly said this did not mean the UK “would kowtow to Beijing” but would be robust in its handling of issues surrounding the country.

Mr Cleverly will insist Britain needs to keep diplomatic ties going to exert influence on issues like the persecution of the Uighurs, theft of copyright material, abuses in the UK of Chinese citzens and other major issues.

But the speech is already facing a backlash from influential figures within his own party who want Britain to end its toleration of Chinese abuses and take a much tougher stance, including cutting ties with Beijing.

Among the leading critics is former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duuncan Smith, who founded and chaired the 30 Nation International Parliamentary Alliance on China.

Writing for Express.co.uk yesterday, Sir Iain likened Mr Cleverly’s policy on China to a “Yes Minister episode.”

He said: “Sadly, so much of the government’s position on China now stems from a desire not to upset China if at all possible.

Our enormous economic dependence on China that has flowed through the Universities and other institutions has, it appears, left government policy in a kind of project Kow-Tow.”

Mr Cleverly is expected to lay out how the UK can take a guarded approach to China but still maintain diplomatic relations.

The speech will lay out how entering the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade group and Aukus defence alliance with the US and Australia opens up new opportunities to take on some of the excesses of China.

Mr Cleverly said: “I understand their concern. I’ve got colleagues who have been sanctioned by the Chinese state and I’ve raised that directly with [Chinese foreign minister] Wang Yi and I will continue to do so every time I meet them because it’s wrong, and they shouldn’t do it, and I’ve told them so.

“So, I get why a number of my colleagues are, are to use your word hawkish.”

He went on: “I am confident on behalf of the UK’s ability to drive change and positive change, including in China. And it’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be quick.

“And we’re not going to get them to completely redefine themselves. But we do have influence including with them.

“And if you don’t engage, we lose that influence. And I have no intention of throwing away what influence I do have, even with China.”

However, MPs are concerned that China has sanctioned politicians such as Sir Iain and continues to commit abuses despite complaints from the West.

There are worries about western diplomacy collectively with a letter going to President Macron demanding he expels China’a ambassador to France for suggesting Ukraine is not a real country.

A letter was submitted to the government in Paris last night signed by around 80 parliamentarians.

Macron recently visited China and appeared to water down support for Taiwan while he has also been accused of trying work up a secret deal for China to broker a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine.

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