Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has faced inquiries regarding discussions with the Chinese government concerning the arrested parliamentary researcher suspected of espionage for China. While Cleverly affirmed dialogues with Chinese leaders on issues of democratic interference, he refrained from commenting on specific security matters.
Silent Diplomacy: Throughout the interview, Cleverly emphasized the challenge of disclosing details about his discussions in China. However, critics argue that maintaining silence may lead to perceptions of insufficient government action. Some within Cleverly’s own party advocate for a more assertive stance against China, including the formal designation of China as a “threat,” a move resisted by the government.
Complex Relations: Cleverly acknowledged the importance of engaging with China on various issues, such as sanctions against British parliamentarians. He asserted that face-to-face conversations remain the most effective means of addressing concerns.
Visit to China: Last month, Cleverly became the first foreign secretary to visit China in five years. When questioned about prior knowledge of the researcher’s arrest, Cleverly declined to comment. He similarly refrained from confirming discussions on the case with Chinese officials.
Government’s Position: Cleverly and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak raised concerns about Chinese actions undermining democracy during their interactions with Chinese leaders. The government faces pressure from within the party to adopt a more robust approach towards China.
Labour’s Call for Audit: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticized Sunak for allegedly disregarding warnings about China and urged a comprehensive review of UK-China relations.
China’s Response: China vehemently denied the allegations, dismissing them as “malicious slander.” While China ranks as the UK’s fourth-largest trading partner, tensions have arisen due to issues like human rights in Hong Kong and China’s stance on Russia’s Ukraine intervention.
Conclusion: The controversy surrounding the alleged spy case highlights the complexities of UK-China relations. As debates on diplomatic approaches continue, Cleverly’s responses underscore the delicate balance between transparency and diplomatic discretion in handling sensitive matters.