Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was accused of ‘kowtowing’ to China last night as he prepared for formal talks with communist leaders in Beijing.
Mr Cleverly will end a five-year freeze in relations today when he travels to the Chinese capital for meetings with foreign affairs minister Wang Yi and vice president Han Zheng.
Speaking ahead of the trip, Mr Cleverly pledged to raise the issue of China’s dire human rights record and urged the communist superpower to act with ‘responsibility on the global stage’.
He said it was vital to ‘manage our relationship with China’ and recognise that global challenges like climate change cannot be tackled without Beijing’s support.
‘China’s size, history and global significance means they cannot be ignored, but that comes with a responsibility on the global stage.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was accused of ‘kowtowing’ to China last night (pictured on Sunday)
‘That responsibility means China fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,’ Mr Cleverly added.
Government sources said Rishi Sunak was also open to holding face-to-face talks with Xi Jinping at next week’s G20 summit in New Delhi if the Chinese president decides to attend.
But critics warned that cosying up to China’s communist leadership would achieve nothing.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused ministers of pursuing a policy of ‘appeasement’ towards Beijing – and warned that the Government seemed more interested in boosting trade than defending human rights and democracy.
Sir Iain, one of a number of MPs sanctioned by China, urged Mr Cleverly to abandon the meeting, saying it was ‘pointless’. ‘This is just the latest stage of Project Kowtow,’ he said.
‘The problem with our position right now is it smells terribly of appeasement. It’s like we want more business, therefore we don’t want to upset the Chinese too much.’
Mr Cleverly hit back last night, saying: ‘To consciously withdraw and not utilise our standing in the world, the authority and voice that we have, that would be seen as a sign of weakness, not a sign of strength.’
But Tory MP Alicia Kearns, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, warned that Mr Cleverly was entering ‘hostile territory’.
Mr Cleverly will end a five-year freeze in relations today when he travels to the Chinese capital for meetings with foreign affairs minister Wang Yi (pictured) and vice president Han Zheng
In a report today, her committee calls on ministers to publish a new China strategy to end the ‘incoherence’ in the UK’s approach.
Ms Kearns said: ‘The need for economic cooperation with China needs to be balanced with caution. If the West leaves a vacuum China will fill it.’
Mr Cleverly is the first British foreign secretary to visit Beijing since Jeremy Hunt in July 2018.
In the same year Theresa May became the last prime minister to meet president Xi.