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Weakened ties with China would damage UK

By ANGUS MCNEICE | China Daily | Updated: 2020-06-19 08:57

Politician says both nations can better address global issues with strong ties

British businessman and politician James Sassoon has warned that a weakening of ties with China would negatively impact the United Kingdom as the nation navigates its way beyond the pandemic and out of the European Union.

Sassoon, who is a member of the House of Lords and president of the China-Britain Business Council, was responding to recent calls for a "rethink" of the UK-China relationship from some British politicians.

"The UK is at an important moment as it thinks about its post-Brexit trading relationships," Sassoon said."There are people in the UK, particularly within my political party, the Conservative Party, who are rethinking their approach and lobbying hard for the prime minister and others to rethink our approach to China."

In March, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw off a rebellion from within the ruling Conservative Party by members looking to ban Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from UK 5G networks. Tensions have risen once again during the novel coronavirus crisis, as politicians dispute domestic and cross-border handling of the pandemic.

"Issues around the pandemic, around COVID-19, around Hong Kong, around technology-particularly focused on Huawei-have raised important and difficult questions for the UK," said Sassoon. "And out of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the way China operates, I don't always believe that people are coming up with the right suggestions or answers to those challenges."

Distancing itself from China would be the wrong approach for the UK, according to Sassoon, who said that the UK should look to build on the existing "close, trusting relationship" rather than "lecture China from the sidelines".

Productive dialogue

Sassoon, who served as commercial secretary to the UK Treasury from 2010 to 2013, said that the UK cannot afford to jeopardize the "productive two-way dialogue" it has formed with China in recent years, where politicians from both sides have held "frank conversations in private about the most sensitive issues".

"What I say to my colleagues in the Conservative Party and to those in government is to remember that China is our third-largest trading partner," he said."The UK's exports to China have more than doubled in the last decade. There is no country which offers greater prospects of two-way trade and investment going forward."

Sassoon said that the Huawei debate offers an instructive example of how the government reached a workable compromise after fielding concerns and considering evidence. Earlier this year, the UK government granted permission to Huawei to continue to operate in the UK in a restricted capacity, following pressure from the United States to fully ban the company.

"Advice was given to the prime minister and the National Security Council, and the decision was taken a few months ago that Huawei could have a limited role," Sassoon said."I think that's the right sort of approach to take."

Sassoon said that the UK and China can both better address pressing global issues if the two countries maintain a strong bilateral relationship.

"Climate change is clearly very high, if not top of that list," he said. "It's a classic example of where the UK and China recognize that there is an important, shared agenda."

He said that maintaining a productive relationship with China will be all the more important when the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end.

"Post-coronavirus, the world is going to be even more dependent on the track of the Chinese economy," Sassoon said, adding that China's economic reform and opening-up has greatly benefited the British services and creative industries.

Sassoon said that there are "massive, additional opportunities" for British business in China going forward.

"In that context, we need to better understand how to interface with China, how to build relationships, how to have a tough, meaningful dialogue with China, which doesn't shy away from any of the sensitive areas," he said.

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