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Tory grandee Lord Hague says coronavirus crisis shows China can’t be relied on

Lord Hague led the Conservatives from 1997 to 2001.

3 min read

Britain cannot stay “strategically dependent” on China in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, according to Conservative grandee William Hague.

The former Foreign Secretary said the UK had already been “caught out” in the telecoms sector, with a lack of alternative companies forcing ministers to hand Huawei a key role in the building of the UK’s 5G mobile network. 

That move has been deeply controversial with Conservative MPs, who last month launched a major Commons rebellion against the plan - and some Tories have already urged the Government to take a tougher line with China over its handling of the Covid-19 spread.

China first reported cases of what later emerged as coronavirus to the World Health Organisation in December last year, but has faced sharp criticism over its treatment of those who first sounded the alarm over the outbreak and scepticism about its official death toll.

Lord Hague, who led the Tories from 1997 to 2001, told the Policy Exchange think tank: “Can any of us see China agreeing to and permitting an international investigation into what’s happened here? I think that’s very unlikely and there have been co-ordinated attempts by China, on social media, to spread ideas that it was somebody else’s fault, including the fault of the United States.”

'We cannot allow cover-ups or lies to put us all at risk' - Tory MP Tom Tugendhat

Warning that the West’s stance on China was “uncoordinated, incoherent and ineffective”, the former Conservative leader said: “This crisis reinforces the case for two major pillars to be established for Western policy towards China. The first arises from the fact that China isn't going to play by our rules, and that means that we cannot possibly be strategically dependent on China in many respects, including on technology.
“But the other important pillar arises from the fact that we can't solve global problems without China. And global problems are some of our most pressing and obviously most existential. And indeed the, again, the Covid-19 crisis is an example of such a dramatic world crisis. So we can't be dependent on China, but we can't be without a framework of cooperation with China.”

Lord Hague urged the leaders of G7 nations to draw up a “framework of global cooperation” with Beijing, warning that Western countries did not have an effective “stick” to punish China over its handling of the outbreak.

But he said: “We can’t have supply chains that are dependent for ever on China, that is exemplified by this current crisis, and we have to have regard to future technology and resources.”

However, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, insisted that “an international investigation into the Covid-19 epidemic” was needed into the pandemic, as he again hit out at Beijing.

He said of the outbreak: “It has already cost too many lives and will take many more. We cannot allow cover-ups or lies to put us all at risk. Even now, false data from Beijing is undermining our ability to respond.”

The Tory debate over China comes after the country’s UK embassy hit out at “hasty and reckless allegations” about the virus, branding them “an attempt to shift the blame” for botched domestic responses.

The embassy this week said it had “exchanged views seriously” with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and called on Britian to “respond in an objective and fair manner” and reject “narrow-minded actions”.

According to the embassy, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Mr Raab that some in the UK were “attempting to politicise the epidemic, label the virus and stigmatise China”.

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