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Tory row over China pressure group

Richard Graham, Conservative MP for Gloucester (Credit: Imageplotter / Alamy Stock Photo)

4 min read

Exclusive: A new front has opened up in recent inter-Tory squabbles over China, after comments were made to The House by the Conservative chair of the China All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) about his colleagues’ membership of a pressure group.

A row has broken out after Richard Graham, the Conservative MP for Gloucester, criticised the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) for encouraging British parliamentarians to engage with China in a hostile manner.

IPAC is a group of international cross-party legislators working to reform the way democratic countries approach China. The group’s members view China’s increasingly authoritarian direction as a threat to many democratic values and so push their respective governments to take a tougher stance on relations with the country. Last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared the once so-called “golden-era” of relations with China to be over.

In comments made to The House magazine, the Conservative MP said IPAC is an “alliance of similar minded people around the world who would definitely fit into the anti-China camp”, where the “parliamentarians involved get lobbied and encouraged to raise as many difficult questions in as aggressive a way as possible [about China].”

He added: “IPAC is an opaque, untransparent organisation about which we know very little – we have no idea where their funding comes from.

“It's rather ironic really that we in the West talk about accountability, transparency and everybody knowing who's funded by what, but actually, there's no transparency about this organisation whatsoever. It mirrors the lack of transparency in many ways as some Chinese state organisations, but that's for them to work out and decide what they want to do.”

IPAC's fundraising policy and donors are set out in full on its website.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, co-founder of IPAC and a long-standing China-critic who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government, said Graham’s views were “very much in…a minority” in Parliament, and that “he speaks only for himself because there are members of the APPG who fundamentally don't agree with him”.

Duncan Smith added: “IPAC is a legitimate organisation of parliamentarians around the world…not least of which there are parliamentarians in the Labour Party, in the Liberal Democrat Party, in the Scottish National Party and in the Conservative Party, who are members of IPAC here domestically, so when he…tries to attack IPAC, he attacks colleagues in the House of Commons.

Graham has worked in and around China for 40 years: as British trade commissioner to China, then as first secretary at the British Embassy in Beijing and as consul to Macao. He joined Barings Bank as its chief representative to China in 1993.

He said his strong feeling was that the people behind IPAC, “actually lack a great deal of knowledge or understanding about China.”

He continued: “the IPAC and anti-China element within Parliament…is not the right place for us to be; I don't think it reflects the quiet majority of MPs’ views at all, many of whom have got companies in their constituencies that do good business with China.”

While Graham said there was “no point in lambasting [China] because of their system” – one which has “taken more people out of poverty than anywhere else in the world, ever” – instead he believes, “we should really focus more on understanding where the strength and the success that they've achieved comes from, what the opportunities and threats from that are and then deal with them pragmatically, in Britain's interests.

“That’s the key thing: it's not about being pro or anti-China, it's about being pro-Britain, and that means defining what our interests are. And my view is that they're much wider than simply taking the view that this is a beastly regime which we must bash publicly in Parliament as frequently as possible.

“That's a very simplistic approach. And it doesn't suit the sort of nuance that British diplomacy and relationship building has been renowned for over a very long period of time.”

Update: Information on IPAC's fundraising policy has been added to this post.

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