Boris Johnson should be congratulated for “seeing off the hotheads” on the Tory backbenches who want a more aggressive approach to China, former chancellor George Osborne has said.
The Conservative said on Wednesday he recognises “a lot of continuity” in the Prime Minister’s plans compared to the “golden era” of UK-China relations he sought to foster in government.
The comments are likely to further anger senior Tory MPs who have criticised Mr Johnson’s desire to court the nation accused of genocide against the Uighurs and of human rights abuses in Hong Kong.
The Prime Minister’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development and post-Brexit foreign policy on Tuesday called for a “positive trade and investment relationship” with Beijing.
Mr Osborne listed “interference and Hong Kong” and the “supersession in Xinjiang province” as unacceptable actions but argued engagement is better than a containment policy.
He noted that during a “very successful” 2013 visit to China alongside Mr Johnson, who was then London mayor, they were aware that China was an authoritarian state that threatened democracy in Hong Kong.
“China is changing and becoming more assertive, the question of how you deal with it has not changed,” Mr Osborne, who left the Commons in 2017, told the Lords International Relations and Defence Committee.
“That is why I think Boris Johnson should be congratulated for seeing off the hotheads who want to launch some new Cold War with China and instead promoting an approach that is realistic about the threat that China poses.
“But also wants to engage with the opportunity, talks about increasing trade, talks about increasing investment from China and essentially tries to co-opt China rather than confront China and to me that was the approach back then and that is the approach today.”
In the wake of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s leaked comments suggesting the UK should strike trade deals with nations that do not meet European standards on human rights, Mr Osborne said was asked if it was “legitimate to trade with a genocidal state”.
“I think the Foreign Secretary put it rather well this morning in what was supposed to be a private call,” the former chancellor said.
“If you only deal with countries that share all your values we’re going to have a pretty limited, sadly, range of countries we’re going to engage with and last time I checked we just left our big alliance with most of them.”