British FM reportedly mulls China visit, but policy balance 'difficult to maintain'
Published: Jun 15, 2023 09:14 PM
China UK Photo: VCG

China UK Photo: VCG

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is reportedly planning a China visit in July as the UK and China increase engagement in a low-key manner and work to stabilize a turbulent relationship. 

Analysts said on Thursday that when the US and Europe have contacts with China, the UK does not want to lag behind and it wants to restore China ties to leverage the domestic economy. However, the Sunak administration faces great challenges from domestic China hawks and the wrong perception of perceiving China as a "threat" can hardly fade away. 

The mulled visit was first reported by Reuters on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources. 

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not confirm the plan, saying, "It is his [Cleverly's] job to engage internationally… Our position on China is in line with that of our closest allies, and of course you'll know the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is travelling to Beijing in the coming days."

Cleverly in April outlined the UK's multifaceted China approach so as to protect itself by limiting national "security threats posed by China" while engaging China in areas such as trade, investment and climate change. 

The Conservative party has been emphasizing the UK's "pillar role" after Brexit and stands close with the US in values, and people friendly to China have been marginalized, Li Guanjie, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies, under the Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Though Sunak seeks a balance and appears to be more pragmatic, he still perceives China as a "threat," and those factors have resulted in a scenario in which the British government seeks to engage with China but is worried about domestic opposition, Li noted. 

The engagement with China is aimed more at taking specific measures to cope with China and maximizing British interests from the relationship, Li said, while expressing pessimism about the possibility of the UK changing its wrong perceptions about China so as to substantially repair the China-UK relations. 

In the April speech, Cleverly pointed fingers at China's political system and its national defense and foreign policies, and made groundless accusations against China on the Taiwan question, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang-related affairs.  

In response, the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the UK said, "To develop China-UK relations, the right perception is the foundation, mutual respect is the premise… The UK should take concrete actions to work with China in the same direction, strengthen dialogue and cooperation, handle differences properly, and promote the healthy and stable development of China-UK relations."