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Rishi Sunak is warned that Britain risks 'taking for granted'

its historic ties with Commonwealth countries as China pushes to replace us

  • MP Daniel Kawczynski has urged the Prime Minister to form stronger ties

  • It comes after Foreign Secretary James Cleverly visited China last week

By Eleanor Dye

September 3, 2023

Britain risks 'taking for granted' its historic ties with Commonwealth countries as China pushes to replace the UK, Rishi Sunak has been warned.

MPs have urged ministers to form stronger deals with Caribbean nations in an attempt to bolster ties.

A number of countries are considering following the lead of Barbados, which became a republic in 2021, removing the British monarch as its head of state.

In June, Barbados PM Mia Amor Mottley and Chinese premiere Li Qiang met in Beijing - in a meeting symbolic of the changing ties and China's growing influence.

Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, said: 'This is a shot across the bows of how we can no longer take these Caribbean nations for granted, or underestimate the increasing effect from China.'

Britain risks 'taking for granted' its historic ties with Commonwealth countries as China pushes to replace us, Rishi Sunak (pictured, August 30) has been warned

China's Premier Li Qiang (right) shakes hands with Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in June

'We are in a race with China over political and economic influence across the Caribbean, and we need to demonstrate to nations that we understand their priorities and are working towards incorporating them in a new bilateral trading partnership,' he said in a memo to the Foreign Office.

The MP is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on St Kitts and Nevis - and returned just last week from a visit to the Caribbean country.

He has called for a 'bespoke trade agreement' between Britain and Caribbean nations.

In July the UK joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc made up of countries including the Commonwealth's Australia and New Zealand.

James Cleverly visited China last week, the first by a UK foreign secretary to China in more than five years, in an attempt to thaw relations that have grown increasingly frosty in recent years over issues.

The visit divided opinion in Britain's governing Conservative Party. Some lawmakers who have long called for a tougher stance on China criticized the visit as a form of appeasement.

Sunak himself hoped to meet Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 summit but it is now thought the latter will not be in attendance.

Cleverly and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the trip as a 'sensible' approach.

'It's perfectly possible to engage with China at the same time as being very robust in standing up for our interests and our values,' Sunak told reporters in London.

Cleverly met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice President Han Zheng during his one-day visit.

The diplomats underscored the importance of dialogue between their countries, and Wang said cooperation between China and Britain had 'global impact.'

China is pushing to replace the UK's influence in the Commonwealth. Chinese President Xi Jinping is pictured in August

'Dialogue and cooperation are the keywords and main tone of China's policy towards the UK,' he said.

'Of course, we have also noticed that from time to time there have been some noises in the Sino-British relationship, and some people have even questioned your visit to Beijing.'

Like his predecessor Boris Johnson, Sunak is aiming to pursue a non-confrontational approach to relations with Beijing.

While Sunak has described China as a growing 'systemic challenge' to Britain's values and interests, he has repeatedly stressed the need to maintain a relationship with the Asian superpower.

Cleverly's visit came as British lawmakers on Parliament's foreign affairs committee published a report that called the activities of the Chinese Communist Party 'a threat to the UK and its interests.'

The lawmakers criticized British authorities for a lack of coherence in their approach to Beijing and called on the government to publish an unclassified version of its China strategy.

They also urged the UK government to take a harder stance against Chinese attempts to target dissidents abroad - including those who have sought refuge in Britain - and called for officials to intensify efforts to discourage the use of some Chinese technologies such as in Chinese-made surveillance cameras.


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