So far, the Chinese government appears to have adopted a “wait and see” stance, refraining from directly responding to hawkish rhetoric from both Truss and Sunak.
In her answer to a question about Truss becoming prime minister in September, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on September 6 that she hopes relations with Britain will remain “on the right track.” After Sunak became prime minister, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sent a congratulatory message, saying that China is willing to push forward bilateral ties for a healthy and stable development.
When asked about the phone call between Sunak and Biden on working together to counter China in a regular press conference on October 26, 2022, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin appeared to avoid mentioning the UK or Sunak while urging the US to stop propagating the “China threat” theory. “China is a development partner and an opportunity for other countries, not a threat or challenge,” Wang said.
According to Zhang Jian, assistant president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the UK has deviated from its long-held pragmatist tradition in the past few years, so much so that its China policy has become “beyond recognition” for Chinese policymakers.
Speaking at a CICIR seminar in August 2022 on the prospects of Sino-British relations in the post-Johnson era, Zhang said that the major question for China now is whether the UK’s current antiChina stance is temporary or a long-term policy.
During his trip to the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia held on November 15- 16, 2022, Sunak said he will not follow through on Truss’s plan to elevate China’s status to that of a “threat” from the current status of a “systemic competitor,” stressing that China remains an “undisputable fact of the global economy” and that the UK cannot resolve global issues without dialog with China.
For now, it seems that Sunak will likely continue the broad foreign policies of the Johnson administration, which is to align with the US on ideology and security with a tough stance on China on the political front, while maintaining a functional and pragmatic view on trade ties.
For many Chinese experts, threats to the UK do not come from China. “The most pressing challenge for the Sunak administration is whether it can properly handle its economic difficulties,” said Zhao Junjie. “If the UK government fails to do so, not only could Sunak be forced to step down as prime minister, but the British economy will plunge deeper into crisis too,” Zhao said.
At the 5th China-UK Economic and Trade Forum in London on November 2, 2022, Chinese Ambassador Zeng Zeguang said “To view China as a threat is to lose touch with the reality and to decouple from the future.” In his speech, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, chair of the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) referred to its research showing that trade with China supports up to 150,000 jobs across the UK.
However, in mid-November, the UK ordered China’s Wingtech Technology to withdraw most of its stake in the UK’s biggest microchip factory, Newport Wafer Fab, that it acquired in July 2021.
“The UK has overstretched the concept of national security and abused State power to directly interfere in a Chinese company’s normal investment cooperation in Britain,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on November 18.