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Senior Conservative MPs Say UK-China Ministerial Trade Talk Plans Should Be Suspended Amid The War In Ukraine

3 min read

Senior Conservative MPs have warned that amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, British officials should suspend organising high-level ministerial trade talks between the UK and Chinese government.

Officials at the Department for Trade have been tasked with preparing to reconvene the UK-China joint economic and trade committee (Jetco).

However, former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told PoliticsHome that as Vladimir Putin’s troops advance deeper into Ukraine, the talks should at least be suspended.

UK-China Jetco annual meetings came to a halt in 2018 after the Chinese Communist Party (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 the committee.

“Governments have all been very weak on this,” Duncan-Smith told PoliticsHome.

“What you’re looking at in Russia is that if you become dependent on dictatorial regimes, that do not acknowledge the rule of law and human rights, then you are always in danger of being completely and utterly taken for granted when the moment comes.”

Senior Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell confirmed to PoliticsHome he too would like to see Jetco preparations suspended.

Discussing the broader implications of Britain’s response to the war in Ukraine, the MP said that “China is watching and waiting”.

“The CCP will use the reaction of the West to gauge our resolve over Taiwan and we have already seen incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone from the Chinese Air Force.  

“If we do not show serious resolve and respond in the strongest possible terms, this will encourage China’s designs in Taiwan.”

Luke De Pulford, an organiser with Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), told PoliticsHome he was “shocked” when rumors of moves to reconvene Jetco began swirling last year.

“There really ought to have been somebody raising the alarm to say, ‘is this really a good idea’?” de Pulford said.

The IPAC organiser cautioned that diplomats and economic officials are often guided by the "mistaken" view that “if you open up your markets to authoritarian states, eventually they will democratise and come closer to your position”.

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

Total trade in goods and services between Britain and China reached £94.5 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q3 last year.

The figure accounted for 7.5% of total UK trade in that time frame, making China Britain’s third largest trade partner during the period.

Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by the CCP for campaigning against the treatment of Uighur people in Xinjiang, said that the West must not find itself in a position where it is economically dependent on China in the way Germany has been with Russian gas.

“The lesson has to be learnt, what you don’t do is what we've been doing, which is turning a blind eye to these kinds of regimes and making them wealthier as a result,” the former Tory leader told PoliticsHome.

A government spokesperson said: “We want a positive and constructive relationship with China, while ensuring that our national security, freedom and democracy are protected, and working with allies we will hold China to its international commitments."

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