Foreign secretary James Cleverly will make a landmark visit to China on Wednesday in a bid to reaffirm the UK’s protection of national security.
Cleverly, who is currently in the Philippines, will fly to Beijing on August 30 for high-level talks with top officials including vice president Han Zheng and foreign affairs minister Wang Yi.
The trip will be the first by a UK foreign secretary since 2018 – five years ago – and a chance to further UK’s efforts to cooperate with China on cyber, security and human rights.
It comes as the Times reports prime minister Rishi Sunak is open to meeting Chinese premier Xi Jinping at the G20 next month, as relations between the two nations thaw.
Cleverly said: “It is important we manage our relationship with China across a range of issues.
“No significant global problem – from climate change to pandemic prevention, from economic instability to nuclear proliferation – can be solved without China.”
He added: “China’s size, history and global significance means they cannot be ignored, but that comes with a responsibility on the global stage.
“That responsibility means China fulfilling its international commitments and obligations”.
The UK approach to engaging with China was outlined in Cleverly’s Mansion House speech in April. It consists of national security protection when Beijing poses a threat; alignment with allies in the Indo-Pacific to uphold international law; and promoting stable China relations.
The foreign secretary is expected to discuss issues with counterparts including global climate change; Putin’s war in Ukraine; tensions in the South China Sea; and cyber activity.
He will also address Beijing’s human rights violations, including towards the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, and in Tibet, and challenge the erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, under the National Security Law, and sanctioning of UK MPs, it has been confirmed.
Cleverly is following in the footsteps of US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who visited Beijing in June, but is likely to be criticised by Tory China hawks with security concerns.
The trip would mark the first time the UK government’s current China policy faced a key test.