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Boris Johnson insisted he would not be pushed into becoming a “knee-jerk Sinophobe” but said the UK has “serious concerns” about Chinese human rights abuses. The Prime Minister said the immediate change in extradition arrangements were being made after President Xi Jinping imposed brutal new security laws on Hong Kong. He insisted the UK will be “tough” with China but will not “completely abandon our policy of engagement” with the regime.
“China is a giant factor of geopolitics, it’s going to be a giant factor in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren,” he added.
Mr Johnson is under pressure from Tory backbenchers to face down China over its increasingly aggressive international approach.
The government was forced to change its position on Chinese firm Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G network over security fears.
It is also considering sanctions over the abuse of Uighur Muslims persecuted in China.
The measures announced in the Commons last night were imposed after Beijing imposed new security laws on Hong Kong that will mean severe punishments including life imprisonment, for protesters.
China has accused the UK of meddling and warned it will retaliate.
But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted the actions taken were a “reasonable and proportionate” response.
He told MPs the extradition treaty was being suspended “immediately and indefinitely” over concerns the security legislation could allow cases to be transferred to mainland China.
An arms embargo with mainland China has been in place since 1989 and will now be extended to Hong Kong.
Mr Raab warned Beijing the world is watching and will respond to its aggression.
He said: “The extension of this embargo will mean there will be no exports from the UK to Hong Kong of potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition.
“It will also mean a ban on the export of any equipment not already banned which might be used for internal repression such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms and smoke grenades.”
The Foreign Secretary also told MPs that the Government has “grave concerns” about the “gross human rights abuses” against the minority Uighurs.
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee, called on the Government to have a strategic overhaul of its foreign policy in relation to China.
Mr Ellwood said: “For decades we’ve turned a blind eye to China’s democratic deficit, its human rights violations, in the hope that it would mature into a global, responsible citizen. That clearly hasn’t happened.”
Tory MP Bob Seely said: “The China we hoped for is not now the China that we are getting, and not only in Hong Kong, but in foreign lobbying, foreign investment, espionage, industrial or otherwise, human rights… a much more significant reset in our relationship is needed.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, called for officials to “accelerate” work on what action can be taken over Uighur abuse in China.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy called for a “new era” in terms of the UK Government’s relationship with China.
Miss Nandy said: “This must mark the start of a more strategic approach to China based on an ethical approach to foreign policy and an end to the naivety of the ‘golden-era years’.”
Relations with China are expected to dominate talks between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, below, when he meets Mr Johnson and Mr Raab for talks in London today.
The government was forced to review its dealings with Huawei after sanctions imposed by Washington restricting the company’s use of American-made chips increased UK security concerns about the technology.
Mr Pompeo is also expected to meet a group of 20 mainly Tory MPs who want a tough approach taken with China.
No 10 said talks with the PM would cover a “wide-range” of international issues.
It comes as Mr Johnson holds the first full face-to-face Cabinet meeting since lockdown.
The team of senior ministers will meet in the Foreign Office to allow them to sit at least one yard apart, but they will not be forced to wear masks.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “As we move forward with the coronavirus recovery and more people return to work in person, the PM felt that it was right for the Cabinet to come together and have a face-to-face meeting.
“In terms of the steps which are being taken, there will be a ready supply of hand sanitiser and members of the Cabinet will have individual water jugs and glasses and they will be socially distanced, that will be to a minimum of one metre.”
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