China: UK policy — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:37 pm on 7th May 2019.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:37 pm, 7th May 2019

It is nice to see you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I congratulate Leo Docherty on securing this timely and important debate—he has given us an extremely useful opportunity.

The hon. Member for Aldershot spoke about the re-emergence of China after the century of humiliation, to which Sir Oliver Letwin also referred. I do not quite accept that narrative. Of course, relatively speaking, China was very big in the 15th and 16th centuries, in terms of its economy, population and technological advancement, but its level of international engagement is completely different today.

I commend to hon. Members a book called “Vermeer’s Hat”. It sounds as if it is about Holland, but it is really about the relationship between Europe and China in the period before the century of humiliation. At that time, China was extremely closed; things went out via the silk route, but not much went in. That is different from the current situation.

The most revealing moment in the debate was when John Howell whether he found it strange that, when he was appointed as a trade envoy, the Government’s advice was to have his own personal policy on China. That is an astounding revelation, which really says it all. I might as well sit down now—but I will not. We want to know from the Government what their policy is, because it is has been swinging around wildly.