It is my view, and that of HM Government (HMG), that China poses a systemic challenge to the UK's values and interests. In line with this, the Prime Minister has been clear that we need to evolve our approach to China; strengthening our resilience, protecting our economic security, and being stronger in defending our principles. He has my full support on this.
Of course, we cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs. Its growing economy, technological advancement and ambition to project global influence will have profound implications in the coming decade, on matters from global economic stability to issues like climate change. To manage this sharpening competition, HMG will deepen ties with like-minded partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, and exercise the UK's diplomatic expertise.
Be in no doubt, HMG is clear-sighted about the challenges that lie ahead, particularly with regard to national security and the differences that exist between our two nations, such as on democracy and human rights. On the former, I am assured that the UK is committed not to deal with China, or indeed any country, in a way that risks our vital interests or national security – as HMG's decision with regard to Huawei and the sale of Newport Wafer Fab demonstrate.
While foreign investment can often be beneficial in supporting the UK’s growth, this should never come at the expense of our national and economic security. Recognising this, the National Security and Investment Act 2021 created new powers to strengthen HMG's ability to scrutinise and intervene in business investments (including takeovers and mergers). These powers were used to block the sale of Newport Wafer Fab in November 2022.
I am assured that HMG takes all accusations of foreign interference very seriously. There are robust national security safeguards in place in the UK, and significant legal and political oversight, to ensure that any such hostile action is unsuccessful. This ensures that sensitive data is protected and potentially dangerous persons are identified. The Prime Minister has also been clear that parliamentarians must be able to highlight issues relating to the Chinese state without sanction, including calling out abuses in Xinjiang and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong.
On the latter, the UK is clear that China must act in line with its obligations under international and national law with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms. HMG will not shy away from making clear to China where deep concerns exist about its conduct, such as on human rights violations in Tibet and against the Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang. The UK has taken robust action on these issues so far, and HMG has provided clear assurances that UK foreign policy will always be anchored in our enduring belief in freedom, openness and the rule of law. Befitting this, Ministers and officials will continue to lead the international community's response, in the UN and beyond, to hold China to account.
I support the sanctions imposed on certain senior Chinese officials and entities so far. I do not, however, speculate on future designations as to do so could undermine their effectiveness. My ministerial colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office keep all evidence under close review.
It is precisely because of China’s role in the world as a fellow member of the G20, and fellow permanent member of the UN Security Council, that we all expect China to live up to the international obligations and responsibilities that come with that stature.
I know Ministers remain deeply concerned about restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in China, including the persecution of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners. UK officials regularly raise HMG's concerns directly with the Chinese authorities and in multilateral fora, as was done in a statement at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022.
I am aware of China’s decision to ban BBC World News in mainland China. It follows Ofcom’s revoking of state broadcaster China Global Television Network’s licence to broadcast in the UK on 4 February 2021. China has some of the most severe media and internet restrictions in the world and I agree fully with the former Foreign Secretary who called the decision to ban the BBC an "unacceptable curtailing of media freedom".
It is the long-standing position of HMG not to speculate about future sanctions or their potential impact. HMG continues to make clear the UK's deep concerns about the human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang, including the use of mass surveillance and the technology used to facilitate it.
As set out in the National Cyber Strategy, HMG takes the security of all sectors of the economy, including consumers, seriously. The Home Office is taking forward legislation to protect consumers in the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, and working with the National Cyber Security Centre to assist private and public sector users of connected devices, such as surveillance cameras, to operate in a safe and secure way.