UK foreign secretary James Cleverly has landed in China for talks with senior Chinese officials, the first visit from a senior UK official since then Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit in 2018.
Cleverly met separately with China’s vice president Han Zheng and foreign minister Wang Yi at the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday. Human rights violations in China, cybersecurity, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are the top items on Cleverly’s agenda for the talks.
Ahead of the visit, Cleverly said, “No significant global problem – from climate change to pandemic prevention, from economic instability to nuclear proliferation – can be solved without China.” He went on to say that China has a responsibility to fulfil its international commitments and obligations.
The visit comes as the UK Foreign Affairs Committee criticise the government’s “elusive” and “incoherent” China strategy in a new report. The select committee, which is led by Conservative MPs, describes the Chinese Communist Party as “aggressive” towards the UK and urges the government to take a clear zero-tolerance approach to the Party’s “transnational repression”.
The committee broadly supports the Beijing visit, however, as Alicia Kearns, Conservative chairwoman of the committee, added, “It is more important that we are in the room with them in stark disagreement, rather than cutting off relations.”
UK-China relations have deteriorated in the five years since Theresa’s May visit due to concerns over threats to civil liberties in Hong Kong, espionage by China in the UK, and China’s support of Russia’s invasion. An incident in which a senior Chinese diplomat tore down pro-democracy posters and pulled the hair of a protestor outside the Manchester consulate in October 2022 further escalated tensions.