Relations with China: Xi Jinping Presidency — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:42 pm on 16th March 2023.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 2:42 pm, 16th March 2023

It is an honour to respond to the debate, Sir Edward. I am answering on behalf of my good friend the Minister of State for the Indo-Pacific, my right hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

I am grateful to Jim Shannon for calling the debate, and I am grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, Mr Carmichael, Tommy Sheppard and the Opposition Front Bencher, Catherine West. I will try to cover the various points raised.

I was grateful for the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Strangford, which were wide-ranging, interesting and pertinent. I deeply appreciated the way he set out the barbaric treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. He also addressed the concerns we all have about the situation in Hong Kong, particularly with regard to the constraints on freedom of expression. He also mentioned Tibet, the persecution of Christians and the ominous race towards cyber-surveillance in China. I am grateful for the comprehensive nature of his remarks, and I will try to address his points.

I will first address the points raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. We continue to support Hongkongers in Hong Kong, but also those newly arrived here, and we continue to monitor their safety. We are all clearly moved by the scale of arrival, but the warm nature of the welcome is also impressive. We will continue to support human rights defenders in China and Hong Kong, and we continue to work in the global south—that is a core part of our diplomacy—to ensure that Chinese disinformation, among other issues, are countered.

This is clearly a timely debate, given the very much expected news last week that President Xi Jinping will serve an unprecedented third term as President, but also because of our release of the integrated review refresh and, of course, the AUKUS announcement on a remarkable alliance with two of our most valued security allies.

Let me dwell briefly on the integrated review refresh. In 2021, we assessed that China’s increasing assertiveness, and its growing impact on many aspects of our lives, will be one of the defining factors of the 21st century. That remains our assessment, but the review foreshadowed the intense global turbulence of the last two years. The refresh, which the Foreign Secretary presented on Monday, sets out how we are meeting the challenge of this more volatile world head on. Clearly, it is about much more than China—it is also about Russia’s threat to European security—but it also recognises the very significant challenge that China presents, in terms of military, diplomatic and economic activity. The review is clear in stating that China has becoming more authoritarian at home and more assertive overseas, and that it presents us with an “epoch-defining challenge”.