CALLING China the biggest threat to Britain is not “smart or sophisticated” Rishi Sunak said last night — despite doing just that last year.
While campaigning for the top job last summer, the now PM said Beijing was the “largest threat” to our security but has now climbed down risking a the fury of Tory MPs.
Today a new review of the threats faced to the UK will be published, with the language on China fudged to avoid a fall out with Communist superpower.
While it will accuse China of threatening the UK’s economic interests it will stop short of branding it a hostile state, instead focussing on the economic threat posed by “systematic challenger.”
Speaking ahead of the publication of the Integrated Review Refresh, Mr Sunak told reporters: “I don’t think it’s kind of smart or sophisticated foreign policy to reduce our relationship with China, which after all is a country with one and a half billion people, the second biggest economy and a member of the UN Security Council to just two words.”
But his comments will be seen as a direct challenge to anti-China Tory MPs who have been pushing for a harder line over Beijing’s Covid lies, human rights abuses and China’s clampdown on Hong Kong democracy.
Mr Sunak also faced questions last night about his softening on his own tough talk, having previously said China was “stealing our technology and infiltrating our universities” and “propping up” Vladimir Putin.
In August 2022 Sunak said: “They torture, detain and indoctrinate their own people, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, in contravention of their human rights.
“And they have continually rigged the global economy in their favour by suppressing their currency,”
But last night he said: “When it comes to global affairs, you can’t ignore China.
“Given the size of their economy, it is necessary and right to engage with them in order to try and make a difference on things that we care about.”
The PM’s comments came as he flew to San Diego where he will unveil a new submarine deal with Australia and the United States to help the Aussies patrol the Pacific against the massive Chinese navy.
During the flight to California, the PM also dodged questions about whether he believed Covid originated in a Chinese lab as the US Government have said.
He insisted: “I would say there are lots of different theories.”