Former MI6 director warns Sunak to be ‘careful’ with China relations

Nigel Inkster say 'we need to be careful' on China

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China has been rocked by a flood of violent protests against Xi Jinping’s strict zero-Covid policy. The unrest has marked an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party, with demonstrators calling for the President to step down over his mishandling of Coronavirus regulations. The recent protests, in combination with increased Chinese aggression towards Taiwan, have brought pressure down on the Conservative Government to toughen the UK’s stance on Chinese foreign relations. However, former MI6 operations and intelligence director Nigel Inkster has warned Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to be “careful” in making statements concerning China as he suggested Britain should follow the lead of President Biden.

Asked for his opinion on how the current Tory Government should approach relations with China, Mr Inkster said: “I think the UK would be very well advised to say the necessary minimum and not appear to be getting too closely involved at this stage.”

He told Times Radio: “At the end of the day, let us be honest, the Chinese Communist Party will not give a damn what Britain thinks. 

“They will do what they need to do. We do need to be careful. 

“With China, we’re not going to change China. If China changes, the change will come from within.”

Speaking at the Lord Mayor’s banquet earlier this week, Rishi Sunak said: We also need to evolve our approach to China. Let’s be clear, the so-called ‘golden era’ is over, along with the naïve idea that trade would automatically lead to social and political reform.”

The Prime Minister continued: “We recognise China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism.”

He condemned China’s “crackdown” on protesters and highlighted an “assault” on a BBC journalist covering the demonstrations.

However, Mr Sunak warned against “Cold War rhetoric” as he acknowledged that it would be impossible to “ignore China’s significance in world affairs,” including global economic stability.

Read more: China ease out COVID-19 restrictions after protests

Referring to the UK Government, Mr Inkster continued: “I think that they would do well to take a leaf out of the US book. The US, I think, have been playing this very well.”

“President Biden’s press spokesman [was] asked about what President Biden had to say, [they] replied nothing. The Chinese people are speaking for themselves. 

“Quite honestly, at the moment, that’s the best thing we could do. 

“There is already a narrative within China gathering momentum. The usual story, hostile foreign forces.”

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The Chinese Government has deployed police forces across the country in response to the unrest, although some areas have also seen a loosening of Covid restrictions following violent demonstrations earlier this week.

Discussing the motivation behind the protests, Mr Inkster said: “Essentially, what’s happened is that over the last two or three years, ordinary Chinese people have found themselves experiencing what we might term everyday authoritarianism in a way that just hadn’t happened before.

“The Covid restrictions are the proximate cause. There are deeper underlying unhappinesses about a progressively more authoritarian trend within China.”

He suggested young people in particular had been heavily involved in the anti-government demonstrations, which correlates with reports of widespread student protests condemning the Covid impact on education and graduate opportunities.

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