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British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley hit back at Conservative Party critics ahead of a visit to Beijing this week, warning that failure to engage with China would be a sign of “weakness” in Britain.

Cleverley told the Financial Times he would tell his hosts on Wednesday that the UK welcomed Chinese investment as long as it did not raise national security concerns, declaring: “The UK is open for business.”

Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss wants the UK to List China as a “threat” But Rishi Sunak’s government is taking a more moderate approach; Cleverly said he would not use “slogans” to conduct foreign policy.

The foreign secretary left open the possibility of Beijing being invited to an artificial intelligence summit to be hosted in Britain in November, and said Britain had no immediate plans to follow the U.S. ban on foreign investment in certain sensitive areas of China.

Cleverley will be the most senior British minister to visit Beijing since before the Covid-19 pandemic, angering Tory critics including former Tory leader Sir Ian Duncan Smith, who claims China poses a “dangerous threat” to the free world.

But Cleverly said: “To withdraw consciously and not take advantage of our place in the world, the authority and the voice that we have, will be seen as a sign of weakness, not strength.”

He said he could not raise concerns about China’s record in Xinjiang, Hong Kong or sanctions on British MPs unless he spoke to Beijing. He met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a one-day visit on Wednesday.

Britain’s relationship with China has been strained in recent years, notably Beijing’s crackdown on civil rights in the former British colony of Hong Kong, while other Western countries are well ahead of London in courting China.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing last November and French President Emmanuel Macron was granted a state visit in April. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who arrived in Beijing in June, was one of several senior Biden administration officials on the trip.

Cleverly wants to realign relations with Beijing, working with China on issues such as climate change and habitat protection, while strengthening economic ties within the constraints of national security.

He rejected Britain’s call to define China as a “threat”, saying: “Give me an example of the rest of the world defining our relationship with a word or a slogan. We don’t do that.”

He said the UK would continue to voice concerns about wider issues, including the legal crackdown in Hong Kong; British judge withdraws Last year, Cleverly said their return was “not currently possible”.

At the AI ​​Security Summit at Bletchley Park, there was speculation that China might send an official representative. Cleverly said the guest list was being finalized, but noted that he had recently invited a Chinese and British expert to give evidence on the issue at the UN Security Council.

Britain recently excluded Chinese companies from Britain’s sensitive 5G telecoms infrastructure and nuclear projects, but Cleverly said there were other areas where London wanted to do business with Beijing.

“Yes. We will seek foreign investment in a range of sectors as long as it is in our national security interest.” He added that China’s involvement in financial services, electric vehicle battery production and green energy would be judged against that definition.

This month, U.S. President Joe Biden announced an executive order to impose targeted restrictions on U.S. investment in China’s technology sector, but there is no sign that the U.K. will immediately follow suit.

“Whether it’s foreign investment coming into the UK or UK investment going out, the principle is that we seek to be an active economic player globally, as long as it doesn’t contradict what we want to protect,” Cleverly said.

The foreign secretary said it would be his fourth meeting with Wang Yi in different forums, sometimes described as embodying China’s “wolf warrior” approach to diplomacy.

“I’ve always thought he was blunt, he spoke very directly, but so did I,” Cleverly said. “I always thought he was very polite.

“When I asked him about issues that I knew made the Chinese government uncomfortable, he always listened, even though he often expressed China’s position very strongly. I can handle that.”

Regarding the sudden disappearance of former Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, Cleverly said: “I don’t know the specific circumstances, and speculation may not be useful to me.”

China’s foreign ministry said Britain and China would “conduct in-depth exchanges on issues of concern” at a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday.

International businesses, including British ones, have flocked back to China this year after the strict zero-coronavirus restrictions that isolated China from the rest of the world for three years were lifted.

But heightened U.S. scrutiny of China has led to so-called de-risking, with some Western companies aiming to reduce supply chain reliance on China.

At a World Economic Forum event in Tianjin in June, Premier Li Qiang described the approach as a “false proposition”.

Eight years after George Osborne, then chancellor of the exchequer, visited China, there was a discreet rapprochement between China and Britain, with both sides talking of a “golden age” in their relationship and Britain promising to be Beijing’s “number one Western partner”.


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