Ex-MI6 director warns Sunak to say ‘necessary minimum’ about China
China: UK should say the 'necessary minimum' says Nigel Inkster
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It is only the Chinese people that can topple its authoritarian regime, a former MI6 director has claimed, and that reality should encourage Rishi Sunak to say the “necessary minimum” about its leaders. Former MI6 operations and intelligence director Nigel Inkster urged the Prime Minister and his Government to follow the lead of US President Joe Biden in avoiding getting involved in the Chinese protests against the “Zero Covid” strategy, instead suggesting they let the “Chinese people speak for themselves”. Speaking in light of Mr Sunak’s comments on Monday, Mr Inkster warned that Britain must be “careful” not to overplay its hand given how reliant the world and UK economies are on Chinese exports.
Mr Inkster said: “Well, I think they would do well to take a leaf out of the US book. The US have been playing this very well. President Biden’s press spokesman, when asked about what President Biden had to say [about the situation in China], replied nothing, the Chinese people are speaking for themselves.
“I think, quite honestly at the moment, that is the best thing we could do. There is already a narrative within China gathering momentum. The usual story, hostile foreign forces.
“I think the UK would be very well advised to say the necessary minimum and not appear to be getting too closely involved at this stage because, at the end of the day, let’s be honest the Chinese Communist Party will not give a damn what Britain thinks.
“So, they will do what they need to do. We do need to be careful. We are not going to change China. If China changes, the change will come from within.”
Speaking to dignitaries at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday night, Rishi Sunak said he “recognised China poses a systemic challenge” to the values of the United Kingdom.
In the same breath, however, he admitted western countries could not ignore China’s influence over world affairs and its ability to help with shared challenges such as economic stability and climate change.
In his first major speech on foreign relations, he said: “The so-called ‘golden era’ is over, along with the naive idea that trade would lead to social and political reform.
“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.
“The media – and our parliamentarians – must be able to highlight these issues without sanction, including calling out abuses in Xinjiang – and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong.”
Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets in major cities across China last week over the reinstatement of the “Zero Covid” lockdown strategy that has kept millions confined to their homes.
In rare acts of defiance, protesters demanded Xi Jinping resign as leader despite declaring an unprecedented third term less than a month ago.
Footage of desperate citizens fighting Covid officials to remain out of lockdown sparked concern across the West that the Chinese regime was heading further from democracy.
But following the weekend’s demonstrations, more Chinese cities eased antivirus restrictions.
While some suggest the relative calm shows authorities have heeded the cries of citizens, others have argued the apparent peace is a result of the regime employing furtive methods of cracking down on the protesters, such as arresting them in their homes away from the cameras, and that authoritarianism is now even more prevalent than before.
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Former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg called on Mr Sunak to expel Chinese diplomats in retaliation to the brutal crackdown, while former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused the Prime Minister of “appeasing” Xi by not taking a harder line.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “Should we not be looking to expel diplomats, to take tougher actions in international forums where Chinese interests are at stake, to do things that the Chinese would not want us to do, like improving our relationship with Taiwan or inviting the Dalai Lama on a formal visit so that we show that we are not a pushover?”
Foreign office junior minister David Rutley said in reply: “These issues will be raised in a very robust manner.”
Speaking to Channel 4, Sir Iain said: ““I just feel the road to appeasement we went through in the 1930s, if we’ve learned any lesson at all it is the more you appease dictatorships, that impose authority on their people and strip away human rights, the more you drift into dangerous waters.”
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