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Conservative MPs Warn Against Pursuing Closer Trade Ties With China As Russia Invades Ukraine

4 min read

Conservative MPs have called for the UK government to rethink its economic ties with the Chinese Communist Party amid the ongoing global security crisis in Ukraine.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin moved forward with a military invasion of Ukraine, MPs have warned government that pursuing closer economic relationships with other unpredictable and powerful authoritarian regimes is a “terrible terrible idea”.

In February Politico reported that the Department for International Trade has been tasked with reconvening the UK – China Joint Economic and Trade Committee (Jetco).

The committee’s annual meetings came to a halt in 2018 after the CCP imposed its national security law on Hong Kong, making it easier for mainland China to enforce harsh punishments on protestors and dissidents in the city.

The UK government has since been seeking to resume trade talks.

“The lesson from Russia is that there's a mistake that diplomats and hard-nosed economists always make, that is if you open up your markets to authoritarian states, eventually they will democratise and come closer to your position,” Luke de Pulford, coordinator of the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China told PoliticsHome.

“It's almost never proven to be the case and it’s certainly not the case for Russia” he added.

Similar to Germany partnering with Russia on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which the country finally cancelled on Tuesday, de Pulford is adamant that any government pursuit to forge closer economic ties with China will eventually prove at odds with long-term Western global security and strategic objectives.

“We made the mistake during the UK-China trade ‘golden era’ of saying ‘let’s integrate our economies as much as we can’,” de Pulford said.

“It’s a mistake that the Treasury seems to want to continue making.”

Foreign Affairs Committee member and Conservative MP Alicia Kearns told PoliticsHome that as autocrats advance across the globe, “at home we urgently need to pass legislation to protect ourselves adequately from those seeking to undermine and harm our democracy”.

“With both Russia and China, we know that they respond to strength – that if you fail to put in place sufficiently meaningful consequences, then they will advance time and time again,” the co-chair of the China Research Group said.

Kearns’ concerns about forging ties with global authoritarian power players have been echoed by senior MPs across the ideological spectrum of the Conservative party.

Both in public and in private there has been rapidly growing concerns over the amount of caution government is exercising in towards Chinese President Xi Jinping and the wider CCP.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith warned this week that “we failed to realise that the idea of totalitarianism—of brutality and oppression—exists and will go on existing”.

“We thought democracy was triumphant,” the senior MP wrote on Twitter. “Unless we fight them wherever they exist, they will rise again. This axis of totalitarianism supports itself across the board.”

MPs across the Commons are prepared to force government to take a harder line on China if it fails to do so voluntarily.

Parliamentarians have vowed to table amendments to any bill government brings forward aimed at curbing the CCP’s ability to deepen its roots in Britain and recognising the human rights infringements taking place in the region.

De Pulford believes there is “virtual unanimity” on the issue of government distancing itself from the CCP. “There simply is no sense in continuing with the failed golden era strategy,” he said.

“MPs have had enough of it, but more than that, it's proven itself to increase security risks and the risk of massive human rights abuses, which is totally defaulting on our on our core values.”

The Department for International Trade has been contacted for comment. 

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