China’s top diplomat meets former British premier in Beijing
UK Labour leads ruling Conservatives by double-digit margin
By Li Liu
October 16, 2023
A worker holds a microphone for the UK Labour Party in London.
Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
China’s top diplomat used a meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to call for stronger ties with the Labour Party, in a sign Beijing is preparing for a possible election win by the UK opposition.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Blair on Monday in Beijing that the Communist Party is prepared to boost its relationship with Labour, according to a statement from the Asian nation’s Foreign Ministry.
The overtures to the UK opposition highlight how the current Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has turned around the party’s fortunes since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn in 2020 in the wake of the party’s worst electoral defeat since 1935. Out of power since 2010, Labour has enjoyed a double-digit polling lead over the governing Conservatives for more than a year, ahead of an election Prime Minister Rishi Sunak must call by January 2025.
China and the UK should boost cooperation and push the world to develop “in a right direction,” Wang said, according to the statement. China hopes the UK government adopts a “rational, practical and proactive” China policy, he said.
Separately, Chinese Vice President Han Zheng told Blair in a meeting Monday that the two countries should boost cooperation in international affairs, clean energy, biomedicine, finance and education, according to a report by the official Xinhua News Agency. Both the Foreign Ministry statement and Xinhua highlighted Blair’s role as a former Labour Party leader.
Sunak is trying to chart a pragmatic relationship with China while being wary of risks posed to British interests by the Asian nation. In September, his government warned China was seeking to headhunt Britons in sensitive positions, taking action that in some cases “crosses the line from influence to interference.” The prime minister raised the issue with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the G-20 meeting in India in September, calling it an “unacceptable” interference in democracy.