In a major foreign policy speech delivered at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the golden era of relations with China is over, and wishful thinking must be replaced with robust pragmatism.
PM Sunak also described closer economic ties with China had been 'naive' but also warned that a Cold War rhetoric, must be avoided given China's global significance.
The speech coincided with the heavy hand from police against protestors in Chinese cities demanding an end to Covid 19 shutdowns and chants calling for the downfall of president Xi and the Communist party.
PM Sunak told the audience of business leaders and foreign policy experts that, in the face of the protests, China had chosen to crack down further, including by assaulting a BBC journalist.
We recognize China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism, he said.
The golden era of UK-China relations was over, along with the naïve idea that more trade with the West would lead to Chinese political reform.
However, Mr Sunak stressed that we cannot simply ignore China's significance in world affairs - to global economic stability or issues like climate change.
He added that the UK would work with allies including the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan to manage this sharpening competition, including with diplomacy and engagement.
It means standing up to our competitors, not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism, he added.
But the robust pragmatism line in the speech was criticized by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, one of a number of backbenchers pushing for a tougher line.
Reacting to a preview of the speech, he wrote in the Daily Express that China had become a clear and present threat to us and our allies.
I wonder if robust pragmatism now sounds more and more like appeasement, he added.
Labor's shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called the speech thin as gruel, accusing the prime minister of flip-flopping its rhetoric on China.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Sunak promised to continue support for Ukraine, adding: We will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes
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