Tory leadership race: Liz Truss 'plans to declare China a threat to UK national security'

The Foreign Secretary is known for her no-nonsense approach to Beijing

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is vying to beat her rival Rishi Sunak to become the next prime minister. AFP
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Liz Truss is planning to declare China an official threat to UK national security if she wins the Conservative leadership race, it was reported on Monday.

The Foreign Secretary, who leads her rival Rishi Sunak in the polls, has pledged to revise Britain’s foreign policy if she succeeds Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Russia was classed as an “acute threat” in the UK’s integrated review published last year and allies of Ms Truss have indicated she would put China in a similar category is she wins the race, The Times reported.

Ms Truss has said she intends to reopen the review, which sets out British priorities in diplomacy and defence over the next decade, if she is propelled into No 10 Downing Street.

She has a track record of taking a tough stance on China.

This month, she summoned China’s ambassador to the UK for crisis talks over Beijing’s “aggressive and wide-ranging escalation” in Taiwan.

A US warship in the Taiwan Strait. AFP

Tension between China and Taiwan soared after Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited the autonomous territory, a move Beijing regarded as brazen provocation.

The Chinese government responded to Ms Pelosi’s trip by conducting missile launches, “live fire” military exercises and incursions into Taiwanese waters and air spaces. Washington accused Beijing of overreacting.

Taiwan, which has a population of 23 million, regards itself as a self-governing democracy while Beijing claims it is part of Chinese territory.

Speaking before Ms Pelosi’s visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said "a possible visit to Taiwan, of course, is purely provocative".

Russian foreign affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it would be “another provocative action by the US administration, which wants to put additional pressure on Beijing”.

Moscow and Beijing have strengthened their defence ties since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Monday it would launch sweeping military drills in the country’s east that would involve forces from China. The Vostok 2022 (East 2022) exercise will run from September 1 to 7 in various locations in Russia’s far east and the Sea of Japan and involve more than 50,000 troops, 5,000 weapons units, 140 aircraft and 60 warships.

The ministry released a video of Chinese troops arriving in Russia in preparation for the exercise.

The drills will be conducted at seven firing ranges and will engage troops from several ex-Soviet nations, China, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua and Syria.

The ministry said units of Russian airborne troops, long-range bombers and military cargo planes will take part in the drills, along with other forces.

The ministry noted that as part of the manoeuvres, the Russian and Chinese navies in the Sea of Japan will “practise joint action to protect sea communications, areas of marine economic activity and support for ground troops in littoral areas”.

Truss 'not ruling anything out'

Meanwhile, first on the agenda for the next UK leader, set to be announced on September 5, is addressing a crisis closer to home — the cost-of-living emergency. The rising cost of fuel and food has worried many in Britain who fear they will not be able to afford to heat their homes this winter.

Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, last week raised the energy price cap in a move projected to raise the average household spending on energy to £3,549 a year.

The Truss camp said she was leaning towards targeted support to ease the crisis but maintained she was not “ruling anything out” at this stage.

As the contest enters its final week, the country is still in the dark about how either candidate would act to take the sting out of sky-high winter energy bills.

Conservative minister Victoria Prentis insisted the government was drawing up options for the next prime minister and that targeted support was needed.

“I would like to reassure that there are many, many different plans being worked on by civil servants and ministers at the moment, and whoever comes in as the next Conservative leader and our next prime minister will have the background work ready and will be able to make those difficult choices very quickly and before it’s needed,” she told Times Radio.

“We need to make sure that while we will be providing some general support … most of our support goes to those really vulnerable households.”

Updated: August 29, 2022, 2:04 PM