UK's James Cleverly calls China a 'partner for good' before major speech

Foreign Secretary says Britain must align with 'non-traditional' partners in Latin America, Asia and Africa on global issues

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly spoke of relations with China in a TV interview with Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday. AFP
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The UK's Foreign Secretary has called China a potential “partner for good” as he prepares to deliver a major speech on the future of Britain's international diplomacy.

James Cleverly will use the speech to argue that Britain must align with a crop of increasingly influential countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa usually not considered its “traditional partners”.

In an address to be delivered from the Foreign Office on Monday, Mr Cleverly will argue for "investments of faith" spanning trade, development, defence, cyber security and climate change.

His address is not expected to focus heavily on China but Mr Cleverly was on Sunday pressed about the UK’s position in relation to the powerful state.

Mr Cleverly used an appearance on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme to describe China as “incredibly challenging” on the global stage while also a potentially “important partner for good” in areas such as climate change.

He said China’s behaviour was “unacceptable” on some issues, referencing the treatment of Uighurs, but added: “We need to think long term about defending the principles and the institutions that we know have kept us safe for decades."

The speech comes amid the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and continuing efforts by the West to navigate its relationship with China.

Only two weeks ago, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to set a new direction in UK foreign policy, saying that while the “golden era” of relations with China was over, his administration would follow an approach of “robust pragmatism” in standing up to global competitors.

In his speech, Mr Cleverly is expected to say: “In the coming decades, an ever greater share of the world economy — and therefore of world power — will be in the hands of nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“The UK offer will be tailored to their needs and UK strengths, spanning trade, investment, development, defence, technology and climate change."

He will say this will be backed-up with a reliable source of infrastructure investment and that he is determined to make "investments of faith in the countries that will shape the world’s future".

Mr Cleverly, who became Foreign Secretary in September and retained the role after the resignation of Liz Truss, will focus largely on ties with countries regarded as future powers on the world stage.

He will say: “We will show strategic endurance, willing to commit for the long term. I want our foreign policy to be constantly planning for tomorrow, scanning the horizon, looking 10, 15 and 20 years ahead."

Updated: December 11, 2022, 1:24 PM