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Truss to urge Sunak to upgrade China as a ‘threat’ to UK security

Former prime minister Liz Truss will use a trip to Taiwan to make a personal plea for her successor Rishi Sunak to brand China as a “threat” to UK security.

Ms Truss is expected to use a speech in Taipei City on Wednesday to challenge the Prime Minister to deliver on the language he used during last summer’s Conservative Party leadership contest.

During his unsuccessful campaign, having only become Britain’s leader in October after Ms Truss exited No 10 following her disastrous mini-Budget, Mr Sunak declared China “the biggest-long term threat to Britain”, while also promising to close all 30 of Beijing’s Confucius Institutes in the UK.

The institutes promote Chinese culture on campus in higher education as well as in some British schools.

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In a pre-briefed extract of her speech to the Prospect Foundation, Ms Truss is expected to say: “Last summer the now British Prime Minister described China as ‘the biggest long-term threat to Britain’ and said the Confucius Institutes should be closed.

“He was right and we need to see those policies enacted urgently.

“The UK’s integrated review needs to be amended to state clearly that China is a threat.

“Confucius Institutes should be closed down immediately. Instead the service could be provided by organisations with the support of Hong Kong nationals and Taiwanese nationals who have come to the UK on a free basis.”

During her brief time as prime minister, Ms Truss was widely expected to move the UK Government on to a more hawkish footing when it came to dealings with Beijing, wanting to declare China under Communist Party rule a “threat” to national security.

However, her stint in Downing Street — cut short to only 44 days after her mini-budget impact on the markets last year saw confidence in her premiership collapse — meant her update to the UK’s foreign policy position did not have time to materialise.

Instead, her successor Mr Sunak chose not to go as far, updating the UK’s integrated review on foreign and defence policy in March to describe China as representing an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge”.

In what is thought to be the first visit of a former British prime minister to Taiwan since Margaret Thatcher made the journey in the 1990s, Ms Truss is expected to urge the West not to work with China, warning that totalitarian regimes “don’t tell the truth”.

“There are still too many in the West who are trying to cling on to the idea that we can co-operate with China on issues like climate change, as if there is nothing wrong; that there are bigger issues than Chinese global dominance or the future of freedom and democracy,” she is expected to say.

“But without freedom and democracy there is nothing else.

China Ukraine
Liz Truss will warn against collaborating with Chinese president Xi Jinping’s administration (Jack Taylor/Pool Photo via AP)

“We know what happens to the environment or world health under totalitarian regimes that don’t tell the truth. You can’t believe a word they say.”

Ms Truss is also expected to draw comparisons between the tensions between China and Taiwan, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 following a civil war that ended with the Communist Party in control of the mainland.

The island has never been part of the People’s Republic of China, but Beijing says it must unite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Ms Truss will argue that her trip to the self-governed Pacific island, which she will herald as an “enduring rebuke to totalitarianism”, is about showing solidary with the Taiwanese people.

But it comes amid fears of a potential backlash by China against the UK, with Beijing reacting when Nancy Pelosi, then-speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan last year.

China retaliated for the visit by staging a naval and air force blockade of Taiwan and cutting off channels of communication with Washington on issues from environmental protection to maritime security.

But Ms Truss will argue that Western allies cannot avoid responding to Chinese aggression out of fear of a new Cold War given that Beijing is already growing its military.

She is set to say: “We must support free democracies like Taiwan in the face of aggression from a Chinese regime whose record is all too clear for the world to see.

“We in the United Kingdom and the free world must do all we can to back you.”

A UK Government spokesman said it was in Britain’s interests to “continue engagement” with China while recognising the challenges the Far East country presents.

The spokesman said: “We have always been clear that China remains the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security.

“That’s why our integrated review refresh sets out a new approach to dealing with the challenge which China presents for the UK and the wider world.

“Given China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the second largest economy in the world, it’s in the national interest to continue engagement particularly on issues such as climate change, global health and macro-economic stability.

“This is an approach which has been reflected by many of our allies.”