Rishi Sunak to meet leaders of US, China and India in day of diplomacy at G20

Prime Minister will be keen to push UK's interests during his meetings with influential leaders

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attends a leaders lunch as part of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Tuesday. EPA
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet the leaders of the US, China and India on Wednesday, in a day of high-stakes diplomacy at the G20 summit.

In a newly confirmed bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Sunak will call for a “frank and constructive relationship” with Beijing while also raising human rights concerns, Downing Street said.

Critics have warned Mr Sunak that he could be regarded as weak for “drifting into appeasement with China”, after he softened his language to declare the country a “systemic challenge” rather than a “threat”.

In talks with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Sunak is set to confirm a deal allowing 3,000 young professionals from India to work in the UK for two years.

He is trying to finalise a delayed trade deal with India, but the visa plan could set him on a collision course with Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has opposed relaxing immigration controls as part of any trade talks.

Mr Sunak’s first in-person talks with Joe Biden look set to be dominated by continued support for Ukraine and energy, as the two sides are understood to be discussing a deal to supply the UK with gas amid shortages caused by Russia’s invasion.

First day of G20 in Indonesia - in pictures

Mr Sunak used the first session of the two-day Bali summit to condemn Moscow’s actions, which he blamed for worsening global economic challenges.

Before his meeting with Mr Xi, he said none of the issues being discussed at the G20 could be solved without engaging with the world’s second-largest economy.

“He’s going to be clear on the need for China and the UK to establish a frank and constructive relationship," Mr Sunak's official spokesman said in Bali.

“The challenges posed by China are systemic, they’re long term, and it’s a country with fundamentally different values to ours.

“China has an authoritarian leadership, which as we’ve been clear on has attempted to reshape the international order.

“We are clear-eyed, therefore, in how we approach our relationship with China.”

President Xi Jinping with world leaders at G20 - in pictures

Mr Sunak will “obviously raise the human rights record” with Mr Xi, No 10 said, but declined to go into specifics such as whether that will include the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

Asked about the contradiction in calling out rights concerns and asking Beijing for help in tackling international problems, the spokesman said: “I think the British public understand that relationships with countries are complex and nuanced.”

But news of the meeting drew anger from former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

“I am worried that the present prime minister, when he meets Xi Jinping, will be perceived as weak because it now looks like we’re drifting into appeasement with China, which is a disaster as it was in the 1930s and so it will be now,” he said.

Mr Sunak has used his trip to Indonesia to emphasise the Indo-Pacific lean in the UK’s foreign policy.

With Mr Modi, he will give approval for the reciprocal scheme allowing 18 to 30-year-old degree-educated Indians to work in the UK from early next year.

The UK is still seeking a trade deal with New Delhi, after the government missed a Diwali cut-off point for striking an agreement set by former UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

Ms Braverman was accused of ruining negotiations with her controversial remarks about Indians overstaying visas.

Asked about concerns that the young professionals visa could lead to more people overstaying, the spokesman said: “Overstaying is illegal and in fact part of this agreement makes it easier to return Indian nationals who have no right to be here.”

Mr Sunak said he would discuss the trade deal with Mr Modi during their meeting, describing it as a “fantastic opportunity” for the UK.

“But I wouldn’t sacrifice quality for speed, and that goes for all trade deals,” he said.

Mr Sunak said trade was just one part of the relationship as he promised “progress” on “different aspects of policy”.

World cannot move forward if war does not end, says Indonesian president - video

It echoed remarks he made after scathing criticism of the Australian agreement from a former Cabinet minister.

Former environment secretary George Eustice said the deals negotiated with Australia and New Zealand included provisions that were not in the economic interests of the UK, with the government giving away “far too much” to secure the post-Brexit accords.

“In trade deals there’s always a degree of give or take and there are many positives from this deal, but it is right going forward that we don’t sacrifice quality for speed,” Mr Sunak told the BBC on Tuesday.

He has talks lined up on Wednesday with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Japan’s premier Fumio Kishida and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The G20 gathering of leaders of the world’s major economies will feature a working session on digital transformation before drawing to a close in the afternoon.

Mr Sunak will return to the UK on Thursday in time for his highly anticipated budget.

Updated: November 16, 2022, 6:59 AM