UK warns China secrecy over military expansion risks ‘tragic miscalculation’

British foreign minister James Cleverly will urge China to be more open about the reasons behind what he called the biggest military build-up in peacetime history and said secrecy around its plans could lead to a “tragic miscalculation.”

Relations between Britain and China are the worst in decades after London restricted Chinese investment over national security concerns and expressed concern at Beijing’s increasing military and economic assertiveness.

In a speech at Mansion House in London’s historic financial district on Tuesday, Cleverly will call for a “robust and constructive” relationship with Beijing.

In a warning over the future of Taiwan, Cleverly will say Britain is open about seeking to deepen cooperation with allies in the Indo-Pacific and called for China to be clear about its military intentions.

“I urge China to be equally open about the doctrine and intent behind its military expansion, because transparency is surely in everyone’s interests and secrecy can only increase the risk of tragic miscalculation,” Cleverly will say, according to extracts released by his office.

China claims the self-ruled island of Taiwan as its own and has not renounced the use of force to ensure eventual unification. It has also said it will defend its territorial sovereignty, maritime rights and interests.

Cleverly’s speech is the clearest attempt to explain Britain’s approach to China under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said at the end of last year that the so-called “golden era” of relations under former prime minister David Cameron was over.

The Chinese embassy in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

No ‘new cold war’

While the leaders of France, Germany and Spain have visited China in the last six months and called for engagement with the world’s second-biggest economy, the United States and Britain are taking a tougher approach to what they consider a growing threat from Beijing to their interests and values.

Britain has sought to limit national security threats posed by China while engaging in areas such as trade.

The foreign minister’s annual speech to Mansion House is normally used to set out views on a range of foreign policy issues. But unusually Cleverly’s speech will focus solely on China, in what the foreign ministry said was recognition of its “huge significance” to global affairs.

Cleverly, who hopes to visit China this year, will say it would be a mistake to try to isolate China and engagement is needed in areas such as climate change, pandemic prevention, economic stability and nuclear proliferation.

“It would be clear and easy – perhaps even satisfying – for me to declare a new Cold War,” he will say. “Clear, easy, satisfying – and wrong.”

However, Cleverly will say that Britain will protect its national security interests and call out Beijing if it breaks its international obligations or abuses human rights.

He will also use his speech to condemn the treatment of the Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region.

He will accuse China of building “a 21st-century version of the gulag archipelago” and “locking up over a million people at the height of this campaign, often for doing nothing more than observing their religion.”

China has vigorously denied allegations of abuse in Xinjiang.

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