China has warned the UK not to allow “cold war warriors” to “kidnap” cordial relations between Beijing and Britain, firing a new salvo in the ongoing diplomatic row between the two countries.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador in London, said disagreements over Beijing’s imposition of a new security law in Hong Kong, as well as the UK’s ban on using Huawei in its 5G mobile networks, had “seriously poisoned the atmosphere” in Sino-British relations.
“China and the UK should have enough wisdom and capability to manage and deal with these differences, rather than allowing anti-China forces and cold war warriors to kidnap China-UK relations,” he told reporters on Thursday, urging Britain to exercise its independence and avoid being coerced by the US into taking a “hostile” stance against Beijing.
Mr Liu’s intervention comes as the UK has begun shifting its China strategy away from the “golden era” of diplomatic relations fostered under David Cameron’s leadership.
Concerns over China’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, has prompted a new evaluation of sovereignty in critical supply chains such as personal protective equipment and medicines. More recently, London’s offer of a route to citizenship for Hong Kong’s British National Overseas passport holders in response to Beijing’s security crackdown in the former colony has angered the Chinese.
Mr Liu had previously warned there would be “consequences” if the UK banned Huawei from its telecoms networks, but on Thursday denied the charge that he had made threats. “We make no threats. We threatened nobody. We just let you know the consequences”, he said. “If you do not want to be our partners and our friends, if you want to treat China as a hostile country, you will pay the price.”
Boris Johnson has come under increasing pressure from China sceptics in the Tory party and Donald Trump’s Washington administration to take a tougher line against Beijing, particularly regarding the use of Huawei’s equipment, which he was told would enable a backdoor to spy on UK communications.
But while Mr Johnson reversed an earlier decision to allow Huawei access to UK 5G networks, he has been clear he will take a balanced approach to Beijing, saying he would not become a “knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue”.
Mr Liu suggested it would not be in the UK’s economic interests to alienate China, saying there were “unlimited prospects” for trade between the two countries after Brexit, in sectors such as financial services, science and technology, education and healthcare.
“It’s hard to imagine a global Britain that bypasses or excludes China,” he said. “Decoupling from China means decoupling from opportunities.”
The ambassador also fiercely rejected claims of abuse against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, comparing deradicalisation camps to “boarding schools” which offer education and training opportunities for detainees.
Earlier on Thursday MPs on the Commons defence committee announced a new inquiry into “foreign involvement” in Britain’s defence supply chain, which they said would scrutinise ownership by companies with links to states which could have “ulterior motives”. The probe is likely to focus heavily on China.