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CFHK Foundation’s Reaction to British Foreign Secretary’s Speech on UK-China Relations

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

26 April 2023 – Last night, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly delivered a speech at the City of London Corporation’s ‘Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet’, which was attended by ambassadors and high commissioners to the UK as well as representatives of Foreign and Commonwealth governments.

Mark Sabah, the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation’s UK and EU Director, said:

“The Foreign Secretary’s speech on the British government’s China policy reveals the UK’s foreign policy naivety. It is wishful thinking to believe that a nation that systematically breaks its international promises will decide to keep them simply because James Cleverly wants them to do so. It seems as if James Cleverly is willing to give China a pass so long as Britain’s trade and investment can flourish, which sets a horrific precedent for other European nations who are currently in disarray regarding how to approach China.

Nobody has suggested that the UK disengage from China. However, we should not ignore China’s previous behaviours under Xi Jinping, and it is pie and the sky dreaming to believe that James Cleverly will be the person who influences Xi’s behaviour. Instead of standing by his own Members of Parliament who have been sanctioned for having the audacity to call out China for its human rights abuses, James Cleverly seems to be comfortable ignoring China’s actions. China is not a friendly actor on the world stage as it commits an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, strengthens its relationship with Russia, and threatens the democratic Taiwan. Nobody can trust that China will do what it says, and neither should we.”

In his speech, James Cleverly called for a “more constructive but robust relationship with China”, arguing that isolating China would threaten the UK’s national interest. James Cleverly also declared that Britain must remain engaged with Beijing “to tackle humanity’s biggest problems”, saying, “No significant global problem – from climate change to pandemic prevention, from economic stability to nuclear proliferation – can be solved without China”. This is simply untrue because while it may seem nice in theory, China has not and will not keep its promises.

James Cleverly highlighted Hong Kong, declaring that China has a special responsibility to uphold Hong Kong’s freedoms per the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the United Nations Charter. The Foreign Secretary cited how the UK acted when China broke its commitment to Hong Kong by providing 3 million Hong Kongers a path to British citizenship. However, this does not effectively hold China to account for its egregious human rights violations but rather offers an escape route for the Hong Kong people.

James Cleverly ended his speech by warning the Chinese Communist Party not to risk a “tragic miscalculation” in the Pacific by building up its military forces nor to underestimate Britain’s pledge to call out the China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Despite the Foreign Secretary’s warnings, he failed to address what the British government plans to do about China’s 30 Confucius Institutes throughout the UK, particularly in light of new research that exposes a secret visa scheme that has been used to recruit Chinese government-vetted staff to teach at the Confucius Institutes, as well as why the British government refuses to help secure the immediate release of British citizen Jimmy Lai.

The CFHK Foundation will continue to urge the British government to pressure the Chinese Communist Party to release British citizen Jimmy Lai, other political prisoners, and uphold the Sino-British Declaration and the Basic Law.

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