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Britain should look to reduce 'dependence' on China, says MP, as new ambassador lands in Beijing

October 12, 2020
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Tom Tugendhat highlighted nations such as Mexico, which are competing with China to produce products at low costs - CHINA STRINGER NETWORK /REUTERS
Tom Tugendhat highlighted nations such as Mexico, which are competing with China to produce products at low costs – CHINA STRINGER NETWORK /REUTERS

Britain could consider trading with Mexico and other countries to reduce its reliance on China, said chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat on Monday, as the UK’s new ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, touched down in Beijing.

“While it is certainly true that China’s economy is dominant in many areas, it is no longer the cheap workshop of the world,” said Mr Tugendhat. 

“In that sense much of the products that are made and produced in China are also produced elsewhere,” he said, listing as examples Mexico, Egypt and Bangladesh.

We should be cooperating with China [but that] doesn’t mean we should be dependent on China,” he told reporters via video link.

Ms Wilson, who has begun a two-week quarantine upon arriving in Beijing, is taking up her post as ambassador at a complicated time for bilateral relations. “Thrilled to be here,“ she wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of those greeting her upon arrival in full hazmat suits.

MPs, including Mr Tugendhat who also chairs the China Research Group, have become increasingly vocal about the impact on Britain of a fast-rising China, led by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, even as the UK looks toward a potential post-Brexit trade deal with Beijing. 

Still, debate in Britain has grown over a range of issues involving China, including security risks posed by Chinese telecoms firm Huawei having a role in the UK’s 5G networks and whether Britain ought to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics, scheduled to be held in China. 

Demand is also growing for the UK to place sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet.  

On Monday, MPs are set to debate China’s policies toward Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim minority primarily resident in far western Xinjiang region, after a public petition demanding sanctions drew 146,000 signatures.

It’s in the UK’s interest to cooperate with the EU, US and other like-minded nations to address these concerns, said Mr Tugendhat, as many countries like the UK were also seeing a “hardening of position” toward China. 

He also warned the UK to remain wary over the issue of academic freedom and Chinese interference on university campuses possibly leading to self-censorship.

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