Rishi Sunak has been urged to “seize the opportunity” with China as top officials from the UK meet their counterparts in Beijing.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly held meetings yesterday with senior officials in the Chinese capital in a bid to ease tensions with the Asian power.
The trip has drawn criticism from some senior Conservatives, including the party’s former leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who compared Britain’s policy of “robust pragmatism” to the political satire sitcom ‘Yes Minister” during an interview on GB News.
Stanley Johnson, on the other hand, offered a more positive outlook on how further co-operation with the much-maligned country could play out strategically for Britain.
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The father of ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Rishi Sunak to make the most of meetings with top Chinese officials, even suggesting he should meet with president Xi Jinping at next week’s G20 summit in India.
Johnson claims harbouring positive relations with China could unlock a host of economic opportunities.
Critics of China have spoken out against closer ties with the communist state due to concerns about human rights, citing the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang province.
Speaking on GB News, Johnson said an apparent thawing of hostile relations between the UK and China should be heralded as a “positive” development.
“I think that this is the moment to seize the opportunity which appears to have opened up”, he said.
“I think the Prime Minister is possibly going to meet Xi Jinping at the G20, and that would be another moment.”
James Cleverly travelled to China this week for meetings with Beijing PA
Challenged by GB News presenter Jacob Rees-Mogg about human rights issues in China, Johnson claimed that after “spending a whole month” in Xinjiang, he did not get the impression that the country was in a stranglehold.
“My eyes were open, and I did not get the sense that this was a society under the thumb of repression”, he said.
Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chairman Alicia Kearns MP disagreed with the sentiment put forward by Johnson, saying satellite images of the country “aren’t made up”, but believes Britain must work with the power in a bid to stifle the troubles.
The Tory MP told GB News: “We’ve seen the satellite images of mosques being demolished, that’s a categorical fact.
“They’re paying Chinese tourists to do this cultural tourism to say ‘everything is lovely and respectful’, when really the women I’ve met have been forcibly sterilised and raped on a monthly basis to essentially breed the Uighur out of them.
“These are facts, these are not made up, what I do think is that since 2019 is that we’ve seen the worst of this slightly reduced.
“The Chinese Communist Party were absolutely amazed that we put such a light on this, so it does matter.
“Muslim majority country leaders are completely missing on this, it does matter that we say we won’t stop talking on this.”
GB News presenter Jacob Rees-Mogg weighed in on the discussion, arguing that the Government has to be “so careful” to not breach a thin line which could result in Britain appearing “supportive” of the regime.
He said: “It matters that we highlight these things but we have to be so careful that we don’t seem to be going along with them and giving them face.