Tory MPs Push Johnson on China Over Foreign Policy and Security Revamp

Some leading backbench Tory MPs have criticized the government’s long-awaited foreign policy and defence revamp for not going far enough when it comes to China.

The Integrated Review, published yesterday, designated China as a “systemic challenge” and spelled out a pivot to the Indo-Pacific to push back against Beijing’s dominance.

Announcing the review—which was billed as the largest foreign policy reset since the Cold War—Prime Minister Boris Johnson also highlighted the ongoing human rights violations by Beijing, saying that “China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours.”

But a number of Tory MPs, including the chair of the defence and intelligence committees, and a former foreign secretary, suggested to the prime minister that an even tougher stance was needed.

Jeremy Hunt MP said that he welcomed the review. The former foreign secretary, however, added, “I am worried about designating China simply as a systemic challenge, given the terrible events in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.”

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt looks at Kenya's Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma
Then UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Nairobi, Kenya, May 3, 2019. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Julian Lewis MP, who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, criticised the review’s stance that communist China “is an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges like pandemic preparedness.” He also noted the review calls for “deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK.”

Lewis asked the prime minister, “Does not that unfortunately demonstrate that the grasping naivety of the Cameron-Osborne years still lingers on in some Departments of State?”

The chair of the Defence Committee, Tobias Ellwood, said, “I very much welcome the comprehensive ambitions set out in this important integrated review paper. There is a 1930s feel to the scale of challenges that we face today, with rising authoritarian powers, weak global institutions, and an absence of western leadership and collective resolve.”

However, he expressed disappointment with the stance on China, with a reference to Churchill’s famous 1946 “iron curtain” speech in Fulton, Missouri that for many historians marks the start of the Cold War.

“I was hoping for a Fulton, Missouri moment when we finally call out China for the geo-strategic threat that it is,” said Ellwood.

Johnson said that there is a balance to be struck. “China is the second-largest economy in the world and a fact of our lives, and we must accept that fact in a clear-eyed way. But we also have to be tough where we see risk.”

The prime minister said that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had “done more than virtually any other Foreign Secretary around the world to call out what China is doing in Xinjiang.”

He also highlighted the UK government’s offer of “refuge and abode” to 3 million Hong Kong Chinese facing potential persecution.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said that they welcomed the “deepening of engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.” However, he said that it “comes on the back of an inconsistent policy towards China for a decade.”

“Conservative Governments have spent 10 years turning a blind eye to human rights abuses while inviting China to help build our infrastructure,” he said.

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