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China poses biggest threat to global security, says Sunak

UK prime minister goes further than G7 summit statement in outlining challenge posed by Beijing

By Rowena Mason Whitehall editor

May 21, 2023

People's Liberation Army troops march past a giant screen showing the Chinese president, Xi Jinping in 2019. Sunak appeared to rank China even higher than Russia as a global security threat. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

China poses the biggest challenge to global security and prosperity of our age with the “means and intent to reshape the world order”, Rishi Sunak has said.

The UK prime minister said G7 leaders including Japan, the US, Canada and European nations had shown “unity and resolve” in confronting the problems posed by Beijing.

The statement from the G7 nations referred to “de-risking” rather than “de-coupling” from their relationship with China amid warnings from France that the summit should not be seen as being anti-Beijing.

However, Sunak went further than the summit statement in outlining the threat that China poses to the world, appearing to rank it even higher than Russia as a global security threat.

Speaking from a peace centre in Hiroshima, the site of one of the atomic bombs dropped by the US in 1945, Sunak said: “We will work together as the G7 and other countries make sure that we can de-risk ourselves and the vulnerability of supply chains that we have seen from China, take the steps necessary to protect ourselves against hostile investment and do so in a way that doesn’t damage each other.”

Sunak was also questioned on whether the G7 nations had done enough to address the challenge of China. The countries issued a critical statement on Beijing and agreed to set up a new body to counter “economic coercion” by China and others. However, there were no specific actions to deal with Beijing’s increasing belligerence towards Taiwan beyond saying that the nations “strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion”.

In response, Sunak said he disagreed there was no material action, saying it had partly been about “just recognising the systemic challenge that China poses to the world order – it is the only country with both the means and intent to reshape the world order”.

He added there had also been “conversations about ensuring that important technology pertinent to our security does not leak to China”.

The G7 statement described relations with China as a challenge rather than a threat but it had tough words calling on China “not to conduct interference activities” and expressed concerns about alleged human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang.

It also said G7 countries were “gravely concerned” about territorial disputes in the South China Sea and urged Beijing to use its influence with Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

In response to the G7 joint statement, China expressed “strong dissatisfaction” and lodged a complaint with the hosts, Japan.

Sunak has a number of strong China critics on the Conservative backbenches including the former leader Iain Duncan Smith, who have been pressing No 10 on the issue. Liz Truss, the former prime minister, visited Taiwan this week and called for Sunak to toughen his approach to Beijing.

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