Britain’s Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, is in Beijing on Wednesday to “manage” the country’s relationship with China and raise human rights concerns as well as the country’s support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in the conflict with Ukraine.
The first high-level visit in over five years comes amid strained UK-China relations but the British government stressed that the visit aligns its goals of cooperation with allies in the Indo-Pacific and that global issues of concern such as climate change cannot be tackled without engaging with Beijing.
Cleverly is scheduled for bilateral meetings with China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi, and Vice President Han Zheng.
“It is important we manage our relationship with China across a range of issues,” said Cleverly.
“No significant global problem – from climate change to pandemic prevention, from economic instability to nuclear proliferation – can be solved without China. China’s size, history and global significance means they cannot be ignored, but that comes with a responsibility on the global stage. That responsibility means China fulfilling its international commitments and obligations,” he said.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said Cleverly’s trip to Beijing is aimed at strengthening channels of communication to further and protect British interests.
“The Foreign Secretary will say that China’s global significance comes with a responsibility on international security – helping to end Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, diffusing tensions in the South China Sea and ceasing malign activity in cyberspace,” FCDO said.
“During his visit, the Foreign Secretary will raise Beijing’s human rights obligations, including in relation to communities in Xinjiang and Tibet. He will also challenge China on the erosion of autonomy, rights and freedoms in Hong Kong under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law, as well as other UK interests including the sanctions placed on UK MPs,” it said.
Speaking to the BBC in Beijing, Cleverly said his visit was an opportunity to speak “directly and unambiguously” on areas of disagreement and “work together where it is in our mutual interest to do so”.
“I’m realistic that one phone call, one visit, one meeting isn’t going to fundamentally change the direction of travel…(but) patient, consistent and reliable communication could have an effect. That is why I bring up issues around human rights, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and indeed individual cases every time I have meetings with representatives of the Chinese government,” he said.
The British government has criticised China for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims living in the country and in 2021 it banned the Chinese company Huawei from UK’s 5G infrastructure citing security concerns. The same year, China banned five British MPs – including former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith – accusing them of spreading “lies and disinformation”.