Exclusive by SKY NEWS
4th June 2020 – (London) Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab is not looking for a Cold War with China. In fact, he says there are many areas where the two countries collaborate, from climate change to the fight against coronavirus but it is becoming clear that this relationship with the world’s emerging superpower is not one the United Kingdom is willing to nurture at any cost.
A decision to call out President Xi Jinping over a national security law his country plans to impose on Hong Kong has put London and Beijing on a serious collision course once again over the former British territory. This time though, China is in the ascendancy, while an international system of rules and institutions that underpin UK power and influence is under increased strain. Add into the mix the global health emergency triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and Mr Raab’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office is navigating uniquely challenging waters.Yet the foreign secretary remains confident the UK’s word still carries weight.
“I think Britain still has an incredible role in the world as a force for good,” he told Sky News in an exclusive interview.
Mr Raab cited as an example the UK’s stance on Hong Kong – where it says it is calling out China for seeking to violate a Sino-British agreement that paved the way for the international financial hub to be handed back to Beijing in 1997 with its freedoms guaranteed for 50 years.”There is still – not in a colonial way, no one seriously thinks we are going back to that era – but actually Britain can be a force for good in a way that matches our interests and values in the 21st century.”
Mr Raab was speaking on the day his boss, the prime minister, wrote that Britain would allow millions of Hong Kong residents a path to citizenship if China continues to push ahead with its security legislation for the territory.The move – which would make it easier for nearly three million British National (Overseas) passport holders to live and work in the UK – drew a furious response from Beijing.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman accused the UK of having a “Cold War mentality and colonial mindset”.
Not so, said Mr Raab, looking and sounding quite relaxed.
He was speaking in the vast Locarno Suite in the foreign office – selected to ensure social distancing was maintained with the Sky News crew.
“It is nothing to do with containment, a new Cold War, anything like that. It is simply a matter of living up to the responsibilities on both sides we have undertaken,” he said.
The visa offer was made “because we are not turning our back on the people of Hong Kong”.
The UK could go further if China does not back down. A u-turn on such a high-profile issue appears extremely unlikely despite pressure from other western powers, led by the United States.
“I do think it is right to work with our international partners to give China a breathing space if you like to have a look at this and see whether it is the right move and to work with our international partners about what we do next,” Mr Raab said.
“Equally we recognise China is a large power, a rising economic power and is a leading member of the international community.
“I think the thing that will take the shine, if you like, off that rise – not just the economic impact of COVID-19 – but also if it cannot live up to the deals that it makes,” he said.
“It comes down to an issue of trust. Leading members of the international community, including China need to live up to their responsibilities otherwise fundamentally why would anyone trust them with any other deals we might make at any other point in time?”
Asked whether the UK was willing to sacrifice a trade deal with China to stand up for its values, the foreign secretary said: “Us extending the UK BNO passport holder offer to come to the UK in the way that I have described is not contingent on a free trade deal or anything like that, we wouldn’t allow that to get in the way of us living up to our responsibilities as a matter of principle both for moral reasons and international standing.
“That is really important.
“We will continue having a conversation with China about all of these things.
“We are not threatening anything. We are just pointing out as a matter of black and white in the joint declaration that China signed that it is in violation, direct violation, of undertakings freely given and we expect – as we expect any member of the international community as they expect of us – China to live up to those responsibilities.”
The tough talk on Hong Kong appears to be part of a hardening of the UK approach on China in contrast to what then Prime Minister David Cameron described as the “golden era” of British relations with the Asian powerhouse.
The National Security Council met on Tuesday to discuss China.
Intelligence officers are reviewing a decision by the UK to allow the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to play a role in the next generation 5G network.
There is also suspicion that Chinese state-backed hackers are seeking to use cyber attacks to steal secrets from research institutes working on developing vaccines and treatment for COVID-19.
Asked whether UK policy on China was changing, Mr Raab said: “It is probably right to say that – more than the UK adjusting its approach from a point of view of strategy or anything like that – we are adjusting to the behaviour of China, whether it is in the field of cyber or in the field of IP [intellectual property] theft and now in relation to Hong Kong.”
That said, post-Brexit Britain has big ambitions for a tilt towards Asia, which is seen as the engine of future growth in the world.
Mr Raab’s first overseas trip when he became foreign secretary last July was to a meeting a foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok. He’s hoping the UK can become what is called a “dialogue partner” to that club within the next two years.
In a first step, the government will submit its application to the ASEAN Secretariat on Thursday.
Also in focus is accession to an Asia-Pacific trade agreement called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We are going to be working very closely with those nations of the region because we see, not just in relation to China, but that whole area, huge opportunities in the future and also a place for the UK to exercise more influence as a force for good in the world,” Mr Raab said.
It also has old alliances to think about.
None so important as the UK’s special relationship with the United States – a bond that is still of paramount importance despite a growing number of areas of divergence under the leadership of President Donald Trump.
An explosion of fury at racial inequality has gripped the US over the past week following the death of a black man after he was knelt on by a white police officer.
Mr Raab said the killing of George Floyd was distressing as were the scenes of protest and violence that have played out in the streets.
“I want to see America come together not rip itself apart,” he said.
He would not be drawn directly to condemn police violence against unarmed protestors, but appeared to be concerned about reports of journalists being targeted by the police as they were attempting to cover the demonstrations.
He said he was looking into the case of a British photojournalist, Adam Grey, who was detained by New York police at the weekend while working.
In an era where strength and power matters perhaps more than international treaties, the UK needs its allies.
It has walked away from the European Union but still sees strength in working closely with Europe’s two like-minded big powers – France and Germany.
There is also a growing trend of the UK issuing statements on global issues with all or members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance of the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
So how does Mr Raab envisage the UK’s role in the world as it emerges from a pandemic that has forced so much change?
“If you talk about ….Global Britain, part of that of course is … making sure we are good European neighbours with our European partners,” Mr Raab said.
“The second thing is… we want to boost the world economy and I think the approach we are taking to global free trade, with European partners, Americans, Japanese, Australia, New Zealand to begin with is going to be really important, a great way boost opportunities for the world as well as British business and consumers.”
He then repeats: “I also think… Global Britain is also about us being a force for good in the world.”