Published By: Saurabh Verma
Last Updated: August 30, 2023, 23:20 IST
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he had raised human rights concerns at “every single one” of his meetings with top Chinese officials, as he made a state visit to Beijing on Wednesday.
Cleverly, the first UK foreign minister to visit China in five years, held talks with Chinese Vice-President Han Zheng and top diplomat Wang Yi.
The foreign office previously said his talking points would include China’s crackdown on freedoms in the former British colony of Hong Kong as well as Beijing’s alleged rights abuses in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with senior representatives of the Chinese government and I have raised human rights in every single one of those meetings,” Cleverly said Wednesday.
“This is an issue that is discussed extensively not just bilaterally, but at the United Nations,” he said.
“I think the Chinese government understand the UK is consistent in our approach… and I will keep raising these issues with (them).”
Meeting Cleverly at Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, top diplomat Wang said China has “always attached importance to Britain’s status as a great power and your unique role”.
“Dialogue and cooperation are the key words… of China’s policy towards the UK,” Wang said.
But he also said that “we have also noticed that there are noises in the Sino-British relationship from time to time, and some people even question your trip to Beijing”.
China last month accused the United Kingdom of giving protection to fugitives after Cleverly blasted the Hong Kong government for offering bounties for information leading to the capture of prominent democracy activists based overseas.
– ‘Fundamental disagreements’ –
Cleverly has called for a pragmatic and united Western approach to China’s rise, acknowledging the need to partner with Beijing on global issues.
But a critical report by British MPs on Wednesday said London’s line on China lacked clarity and needed a “coordinated, whole-of-government approach”.
The 87-page report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee also labelled China “a threat to the UK and its interests” and urged London to boost “deterrence diplomacy” to counter threats from Beijing.
Hawkish elements in the United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative party have urged Cleverly to act tougher on China.
Cleverly said Wednesday that “attempts to distil the UK’s relationship with China down to a single word or a soundbite are fundamentally flawed”.
China’s size, influence and complexity mean Britain’s relationship with Beijing will be “complicated and sophisticated”, he said.
“We are clear-eyed about the areas where we have fundamental disagreements with China, and I raise those issues when we meet,” Cleverly added.
“We will pursue a pragmatic working relationship, but that does of course mean raising the issues where we disagree.”