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Liz Truss has promised to build stronger economic and trade ties with Commonwealth nations to counter China’s “growing malign influence”.
If she succeeds Boris Johnson as prime minister in September, Ms Truss would launch a “New Commonwealth Deal”, aimed at strengthening economic ties across the Commonwealth.
By ensuring the Commonwealth “sits at the heart of her plans for Global Britain”, the Foreign Secretary hopes she will be able to counter “growing malign influence from Beijing”.
It comes as the UK’s National Security Adviser, Sir Stephen Lovegrove, warned of the “pace and scale with which China is expanding its nuclear and conventional arsenals”, as he said the world is entering a “dangerous new age of proliferation”.
Ms Truss’ plan would expedite bilateral trade agreements with Commonwealth partners, which her campaign team argues would supercharge the Commonwealth trade cost advantage, which is already 21% lower on average for trade between Commonwealth countries versus non-members.
Ms Truss said: “I will ensure the Commonwealth sits at the heart of my plans for Global Britain.
“As one of the largest groups of freedom loving democracies, we must ensure there are clear benefits to remaining a member of the Commonwealth and offer nations a clear alternative to growing malign influence from Beijing.
“Prioritising trade with countries across the Commonwealth will strengthen economic and security ties whilst also turbocharging opportunities for British businesses to access one of the world’s largest economic blocs.”
A campaign spokesperson added: “Liz believes the Commonwealth is vital to countering the influence of China and other authoritarian regimes seeking to undermine democratic values and freedom.
“She believes trade and investment has a key role to play in stopping the growing Chinese influence, where Beijing has used investment as a part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.
“As prime minister, she will maximise all opportunities to strengthen economic and security ties across the Commonwealth.”
In a speech in Washington DC, Sir Stephen said: “During the Cold War, we benefited from a series of negotiations and dialogues that improved our understanding of Soviet doctrine and capabilities – and vice versa.
“This gave us both a higher level of confidence that we would not miscalculate our way into nuclear war. Today, we do not have the same foundations with others who may threaten us in the future – particularly with China.”
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran said: “Liz Truss is reheating old promises while ignoring the huge damage her Government has done to Britain’s reputation abroad.
“As Foreign Secretary, Truss has helped oversee savage aid cuts to our Commonwealth allies, pushing desperate people into poverty.
“It shows all the rhetoric about Global Britain is just empty words.”