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UK wants 'healthy partnership' with China, says foreign minister Cleverly

In an exclusive interview with CNA, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says the relationship with China is dependent on Beijing "fully" subscribing to the implementation of global rules.

UK wants 'healthy partnership' with China, says foreign minister Cleverly

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly during an interview with CNA on Sep 29, 2022.

SINGAPORE: The United Kingdom wants a "healthy partnership" with China, said British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday (Sep 29), adding that "we are not quite there yet".

In an exclusive interview with CNA, Mr Cleverly, who is in Singapore for a working visit, said the door is open to forge a better relationship with China but that Beijing needs to change some of its behaviour. 

"What I would ultimately like to see is a healthy partnership. We are not quite there yet, and the choice is for China. The offer is there," he said.

The relationship is dependent on China "fully" subscribing to the implementation of global rules such as that of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, like the rest of the international community, he said.

"It would be good for us, it would be good for China. It would take some of the tension out of this relationship," he said in an interview with In Conversation's Lin Xueling.

"It would mean that we wouldn’t have to consider China as a threat. We could see China as an opportunity, China as a partner but it would require China to change some of their behaviours."

Mr Cleverly’s predecessor, current UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, has been vocal about China being a national security threat and a threat to the rules-based international order that has governed post-World War II trade and diplomacy.

In a speech earlier this year, she said: "Countries must play by the rules and that includes China." She added that if China failed to play by global rules, it would cut short its rise as a superpower.


When asked if he agreed that China is a national security threat, Mr Cleverly explained Ms Truss’ reasons for defining China as one, adding that he is “concerned” about the behaviour of China.

"We have seen some behaviour from China that we are deeply uncomfortable with," he said.

"We have seen cyber activity that we don’t think has been to the benefit of good relations with China. We see the Chinese attitude to some of the minorities within their own country, particularly the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. And we have seen China not fulfil its obligations to the people of Hong Kong."

Mr Cleverly was referring to allegations against China over cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, as well as a UN report on China's treatment of Uyghurs and human rights violations.

Beijing has, however, denounced the assessment as a fabrication cooked up by Western nations.

Despite these areas of tension, Mr Cleverly acknowledged that China, through its economic growth, has lifted millions of people out of poverty, calling it a “positive thing”.

"China has become an international trading partner not just to the members of ASEAN but to us in the UK ... and Europe as well. That is a good thing. But what we want to see is a future relationship with China, where its activities are more in line with the international rules and norms that we subscribe to," he told CNA.

“That is good for China. That is good for its trading partners, and we want to see a future relationship with China where there is no question about the nature of the relationship, that the relationship should be a positive one and economically beneficial one."


Mr Cleverly's visit to Singapore, his first as foreign secretary, is aimed at underscoring the UK's partnership with the country, ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region.

During the wide-ranging interview with CNA, he also addressed investor confidence following the pound’s fall to a record low against the US dollar in a scathing appraisal of the UK's tax cut plan.

When asked about what he would tell Southeast Asian businesses that may be apprehensive about investing in the UK, Mr Cleverly urged them to remember the reasons they been confident about doing so in the past. 

"We’ve got stable institutions, a well-educated and highly motivated society, and we are real innovation hub," he said.

This is the case not just in the traditional focal points for international investment like London and the south-east, but across the country, he noted, highlighting regions around Manchester, Birmingham, Wales and Scotland.

There have been innovations and “fantastic opportunities” to help the UK's economy grow and to give investors good returns, Mr Cleverly added.

"What I would say is look at this longitudinally, ... the pound exchange rate is the same match as what you’d see in a lot of other currencies around the globe. But ultimately, Britain is a good investment opportunity for all the reasons that we’ve always been," he said.

Watch the full interview with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on In Conversation, Oct 5, 9pm SIN/HK on CNA. 

Source: CNA/ja(gs)


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