UK Foreign Secretary has 'no regrets' over China talks, despite spy claims

James Cleverly refuses to be drawn on what he knew of the arrest before his visit to China

James Cleverly on Sunday said the government would 'not comment on intelligence or security matters'. PA
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British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said he has no regrets about his recent visit to China, following the arrest of a parliamentary researcher in Westminster.

Confirmation of the arrest under the Official Secrets Act came only weeks after Mr Cleverly became the first UK Foreign Secretary to visit China in five years.

The arrest of the British citizen on suspicion of spying for China has led some Conservative MPs to urge the government to take a tougher stance with Beijing.

The citizen in question maintains his innocence.

The Sunday Times newspaper claims he was able to enter parliament for up to 18 months without any security vetting.

Mr Cleverly refused to be drawn on what he knew of the arrest before his visit to China and told the BBC on Sunday the government would "not comment on intelligence or security-related matters".

Disengagement 'not a credible option'

He also told Sky News he did not regret the talks and insisted there was "incredibly important work to do" concerning the UK's relationship with China.

He said: "Advocates of somehow ignoring China, pretending it doesn't exist, not talking to China, not having an embassy in Beijing, and not having a Chinese embassy in the UK ... some people have said we should disengage from China. That is not a credible option.

"When there is a difficult relationship – and this is a challenging and difficult relationship – it is more important rather than less important that you maintain those face-to-face communications."

Mr Cleverly headed for New York on Sunday to attend the UN General Assembly this week.

While he will be joined by the UK's Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not be attending.

Several other world leaders will also be absent, including French President Emmanuel Macron, China’s Xi Jinping, Russia's Vladimir Putin and India’s Narendra Modi.

Updated: September 17, 2023, 4:36 PM