British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he raised concerns about China’s human rights record during a visit to Beijing on Wednesday, while stressing the importance of maintaining a “pragmatic” working relationship and reopening channels of communication.
The trip, the first by a UK foreign secretary to China in more than five years, is an attempt to thaw relations that have grown increasingly icy in recent years over issues including Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, a former British colony, and abuses against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, China’s support for Russia and Britain’s close security ties to the United States.
The visit divided opinion in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, and some lawmakers who have long called for a tougher stance towards China they criticized the visit as a form of appeasement.
Cleverly and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the trip as a “sensible” approach.
“It is perfectly possible to collaborate with China and at the same time be very firm in defending our interests and values”Sunak told reporters in London.
He ably met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice President Han Zheng during his one-day visit. The diplomats stressed the importance of dialogue between their countries, although they also alluded to the deterioration of ties in recent years.
Wang said the China-Britain cooperation had a “global impact.”
“Dialogue and cooperation are the watchwords and main tone of China’s policy towards the UK,” he said. “Of course, we have also noticed that from time to time there has been some noise in the Sino-British relationship, and some people have even questioned his visit to Beijing.”
Cleverly, whose government’s China policy has been described by critics as inconsistent, has said it was It is essential to maintain communication with Beijing to avoid misunderstandings.
“It is important that countries like ours meet and talk face to face on regular occasions to improve understanding, avoid misunderstandings, and address the challenges and differences of opinion that all countries have in bilateral relations,” Cleverly said after meeting with They have.
He said he had “several discussions with senior representatives of the Chinese government and I have raised human rights at each of those meetings, and will continue to do so”.
“I am clear… that we are not going to change China overnight”he added. “But it is important that we have a regular dialogue.”
Like his predecessor, Boris Johnson, Sunak aims to take a non-confrontational approach in relations with Beijing. While Sunak has described China as a growing “systemic challenge” to Britain’s values and interests, he has repeatedly stressed the need to maintain a relationship with the Asian superpower.
Cleverly’s visit came as British lawmakers on Parliament’s foreign affairs committee released a report calling the Chinese Communist Party’s activities “a threat to the UK and its interests”.
The lawmakers criticized the British authorities for a lack of consistency in their approach to Beijing and called on the government to publish an unclassified version of its China strategy.
They also urged the UK government to take a tougher stance against Chinese attempts to target dissidents abroad – including those who have sought refuge in Britain – and called on officials to step up efforts to discourage the use of some Chinese technologies, like in China. They made surveillance cameras.
Lawmaker Alicia Kearns, who chairs the committee, said maintaining a dialogue with Beijing was preferable to disengaging.
“It is more important that we are in the room with them strongly disagreeing, rather than cutting ties,” he told the BBC.
The visit could pave the way for a meeting between Sunak and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi next week. Sunak declined to answer when asked on Wednesday whether such a meeting was possible, saying only that it was “sensitive to interact” with countries to find common ground.
Asked about Cleverly’s schedule at a daily briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that as two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and major economies, China and Britain should “assume common responsibility for promoting world peace, stability and development.”
He added, however, that “issues related to Hong Kong and Xinjiang are purely China’s internal affairs and no country should interfere.”
The visit was not expected to yield any major tangible results due in part to the conflicting goals of the countries, said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London.
“The fact that they are talking is positive,” Tsang said. “We need to have a conversation with China, we need to have effective communication channels with China – even if we don’t agree on anything – because China does matter.”
(with information from AP)
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