China not a foe but a 'challenge' says Badenoch after espionage arrests

Tue 12 Sept 2023
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

China and UK flags

Business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch said that she does not consider China a “foe”, despite the recent arrest of two men on suspicion of spying on behalf of Beijing.

Over the weekend, the pair were arrested under the Official Secrets Act over allegations of espionage and bailed pending further inquiries.

One, a parliamentary researcher who is said to have had contact with several senior Conservative MPS, has released a statement saying he is “completely innocent”.

‘Not an enemy’

Speaking to BBC News, Badenoch noted that “there is only so much one can say when it comes to matters of security,” but suggested that the UK should not label China as an enemy:

“They are our fourth largest trading partner; there are many businesses which are integrated with the Chinese economy.

“Many jobs are reliant on it, there are many people who trade with China as they do with countries all over the world.”

Allies’ approaches

Badenoch said the approach of the UK was similar to that of allies such as the US, Australia and Canada.

While economic coercion from China is an issue cited by some countries, such as Japan and India, she added it is “not something we’re experiencing”.

In a separate interview with Sky News, Badenoch explained that “China is a country that is significant in terms of world economics and sits on the UN security council—we certainly should not describe it as a foe, but we can describe it as a challenge”.

Charges and batteries

The Telegraph reports further comments from the minister in which she argues that achieving Net Zero in the UK is unachievable without co-operation with China:

“You can’t exclude Chinese-made products from the battery ecosystem.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt struck a similarly even-handed tone yesterday (11 September), when he said that “diplomacy is about talking to everyone, and Britain will always understand that”.

‘Fake information’ claims

Prime minister Rishi Sunak raised the arrests with the Chinese premier, Li Qiang, at the weekend’s G20 summit in India.

China vigorously rejected the accusations, with foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning demanding the UK “stop spreading fake information”, according to BBC News.

Hawks circle

Backbench Conservative MPs have been more hawkish on the issue.

Among them is former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who said that it is "time for us to recognise the deepening threat that the Chinese Communist Party under [President] Xi now pose".

The MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, has taken a similar line:

"Yet again the security of Parliament has potentially been compromised, reinforcing how we cannot view the CCP as anything other than a hostile foreign threat."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, former head of MI6, Sir Alex Younger, made the suggestion that China should be considered a “state of concern”.

“Sometimes you need to confront China. In my experience, just being nice to them doesn’t get you very far.”