PM Rishi Sunak says no room for ‘short-termism’ in dealing with Russia and China

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking at the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall in central London (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking at the annual Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall in central London (PA)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “short-termism” or “sentimentality” will not help Britain stand up to global competitors like Russia or China.

In his first major foreign policy speech, Mr Sunak indicated to international dignitaries and business leaders on Monday he would set a fresh direction for the UK’s place in the world, after the premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Mr Johnson and Ms Truss were seen as taking more combative approaches with allies such as the French president Emmanuel Macron, but in his speech Mr Sunak promised better relations with Europe amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In the speech at the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London’s Guildhall, Mr Sunak reiterated Government criticism of the arrest of a BBC journalist covering Covid protests in China.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) listens as Lord Mayor of the City of London Nicholas Lyons speaks during the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall in central London on November 28, 2022. (AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) listens as Lord Mayor of the City of London Nicholas Lyons speaks during the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall in central London on November 28, 2022. (AFP via Getty Images)

He said: “Russia is challenging the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. China is consciously competing for global influence using all the levers of state power.

“In the face of these challenges, short-termism or wishful thinking will not suffice. We can’t depend on Cold War arguments or approaches, or mere sentimentality about our past.”

Describing the need for an “evolutionary leap” in British strategy, he said it would require “being stronger in defending our values and the openness on which our prosperity depends”.

“It means delivering a stronger economy at home, as the foundation of our strength abroad. And it means standing up to our competitors, not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism.

“We will do all this not only through our diplomatic expertise, science and technology leadership, and investment in defence and security, but by dramatically increasing the quality and depth of our partnerships with like-minded allies around the world.”

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives to attend the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall in central London on November 28, 2022. (AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives to attend the Lord Mayor's Banquet at Guildhall in central London on November 28, 2022. (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Sunak told his audience the “golden era” of UK-Chinese relations was over, but said it was wrong to “rely on simplistic Cold War rhetoric”.

“We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.

“Instead of listening to their people’s protests, the Chinese Government has chosen to crack down further, including by assaulting a BBC journalist.”

But he also warned the UK “cannot simply ignore China’s significance in world affairs – to global economic stability or issues like climate change”.

Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Sunak said his administration was “reinvigorating” European relationships to tackle migration and improve security.

But alongside warm words, the prime minister also pledged to “never align” the UK with EU law.

His speech immediately received criticism, with Tory MP and former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith likening some of Mr Sunak’s language on China as close to “appeasement”.

Speaking to Channel 4 News before Mr Sunak’s speech, Sir Iain pointed to the treatment of BBC cameraman Edward Lawrence, who the broadcaster said was “arrested and handcuffed” while covering demonstrations in China against Covid restrictions, and then “beaten and kicked” by police.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called the speech “as thin as gruel”.

The Labour MP said: “All it shows is that once again the Conservative Government is flip-flopping its rhetoric on China.

“The Government urgently needs to publish its long-promised China strategy as well as its update to the Integrated Review that is already out of date.”