Johnson warns against new cold war as China branded a ‘threat’ to UK economy

PM denies kowtowing to Beijing and promises tough action over human rights abuses

Boris Johnson has warned MPs against a new cold war with China as a review of UK foreign and defence policy promised to build a deeper trade relationship with Beijing. The long-awaited review identifies China as "the biggest state-based threat to the UK's economic security" and a "systemic competitor", but says Britain should remain open to Chinese investment.

Labour accused the prime minister of ignoring China's human rights abuses while Conservative hawks complained that he was returning to David Cameron's policy of wooing Beijing in return for investment.

"It is suggested... that our adversary, communist China, 'is an increasingly important partner in tackling global challenges like pandemic preparedness' – if you please – and that we want 'deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK'. Does not that unfortunately demonstrate that the grasping naivety of the Cameron-Osborne years still lingers on in some departments of state?" Julian Lewis, the Conservative chair of the intelligence committee, said.

Mr Johnson said Britain would take tough measures in response to Beijing’s human rights abuses and ensure that companies that use forced labour could not profit from trade with Britain.


“Those who call for a new cold war on China or for us to sequester our economy entirely from China, which would seem to be the new policy of the opposition, weaving, as they generally do, from one position to the next, are, I think, mistaken. We have a balance to strike and we need to have a clear-eyed relationship with China,” he said.

Nuclear cap

Britain has abandoned its commitment to reduce the cap on its nuclear stockpile to 180 warheads and will instead increase it to 260. Mr Johnson said the move was a response to an "evolving security environment" but Labour leader Keir Starmer asked why the government was reversing a trend towards reducing the stockpile.

“The Labour party’s support for nuclear deterrence is non-negotiable, but this review breaks the goal of successive prime ministers and cross-party efforts to reduce our nuclear stockpile. It does not explain when, why or for what strategic purpose, so the prime minister needs to answer that question today,” he said.

The review identifies extremists in Northern Ireland and jihadists as the biggest terrorist threats facing Britain and warns that a chemical or biological weapons attack is likely within the next decade. Ireland is one of three European neighbours, along with France and Germany, to receive special attention in a report which all but ignores the EU.

“We are committed to a strong bilateral partnership with Ireland, with which we enjoy a Common Travel Area. We have a shared responsibility and an essential common interest in upholding the 1998 Belfast Agreement in all its elements,” it says.

“We will seek to work constructively with Ireland to ensure that the 2019 EU Withdrawal Agreement is implemented in a way that protects this agreement and the hard-won gains of the peace process, including prosperity and stability in Northern Ireland. In addition, we will further develop our relationship through increasing connectivity, clean growth and international co-operation.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times