PM accused of 'going soft' on China amid push for trade with world's second largest economy

Wed 17 Mar 2021
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused by Tory MPs of “naivety” towards China following the government’s publication of its review into foreign policy yesterday. 

Conservative MPs criticised Johnson for insisting Britain would seek “deeper trade links and more Chinese investment”, the FT reports.

No new cold war

UK trade with China is worth £80bn and Johnson said those who wanted “a new cold war with China” were mistaken.

However, Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence select committee, said Beijing should have been labelled a “geostrategic threat” in the review.

Julian Lewis, chair of the intelligence and security committee, accused government departments of the “grasping naivety” shown by former PM David Cameron’s administration towards Beijing.

Today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is expected to say that the UK will be prepared to strike deals with countries that have worse human rights standards than in the West, the Daily Mail reports. 

Don’t restrict growth

While Raab insists that the UK should aim to cement its role as a “force for good in the world” over the coming decade, a video leaked to the Huffington Post reveals Raab saying restricting trade due to human rights records would limit access to “growth markets”. 

During the Q&A session with government officials, the foreign secretary said the UK would be in a better position if it was willing to engage with other countries.

“We don’t junk whole relationships because we’ve got issues – we have a conversation because we want to change the behaviour,” he said.

Trade Secretary Liz Truss has also written in Politico today about how the UK’s foreign policy review is a positive step for values driven “free and fair trade”. 

WTO engagement

Truss said the UK would engage with the WTO, using the next ministerial conference under new director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala “to build back a better trading environment in which everyone plays by the rules and the full benefits of trade are felt worldwide”.

A ‘Global Britain’ strategy delivered local jobs, she pointed out, with 6.5 million UK jobs tied to exports, according to a recent report.

Meanwhile, MPs are calling for stricter enforcement of modern slavery laws on businesses operating in regions such as Xinjiang in China where human rights abuses are widely reported, according to the FT

The business, energy and industrial strategy committee said in a report today that there was “compelling evidence” that companies were “complicit in the forced labour of Uighurs in Xinjiang”.

Modern slavery policies

MPs found that although companies had modern slavery policies in place, they were not always robust enough to examine their supply chains.

The committee also called on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to “do more to meet its commitments to uphold human rights, particularly in relation to businesses with links to China”.