Ian Williams Ian Williams

James Cleverly is clueless on China

The Foreign Secretary's vague China policy is dangerously and painfully retro

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (Credit: Getty images)

At least James Cleverly had somebody to meet. The Foreign Secretary’s last effort to get to Beijing was postponed after his Chinese counterpart disappeared in late June. Former foreign minister Qin Gang has not been seen or heard of since. Gang’s whereabouts are as mysterious as Cleverly’s China policy, which is beginning to feel a lot like a re-tread of the incoherent and failed past strategy of ‘engagement’.

That policy, as far as it can be described as one, was driven by greed and gullibility. It added up to little more than kowtowing to Beijing, largely ignoring its growing repression at home and aggression overseas, while at the same time allowing Communist party-linked entities unfettered access to the most sensitive corners of the British economy and academia.

Cleverly, the first senior minister to visit Beijing in five years, met China’s new foreign minister Wang Yi (actually an old foreign minister re-instated) and its vice-president Han Zheng in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. He said he’d raised human rights issues, ‘But I think it’s important to also recognise that we have to have a pragmatic, sensible working relationship with China because of the issues that affect us all around the globe.’

The problem is that China doesn’t see it that way

Cleverly has given few clues as to what a ‘pragmatic, sensible working relationship’ actually adds up to. And it was hardly encouraging when, ahead of his visit, the Foreign Office reportedly told government officials not to use the term ‘hostile state’ in case it upsets China, and to erase it from publications. Cleverly says he wants to be constructive. He cited the need to cooperate on climate change, investment and trade, as long as the latter did not create national security concerns. ‘The UK is open for business,’ he declared on the eve of his visit.

Yet there is little sign of Chinese interest in cooperation on climate change.

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