[Christina Rees in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 3:45 pm ar 15 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development), Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) (Minister for Development and Africa) 3:45, 15 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to appear under your skilled chairship this afternoon, Ms Rees. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Bob Seely for securing this debate, and I pay tribute to his advocacy for the people of Hong Kong through the all-party group. He is an expert in the area that we are addressing this afternoon, and I particularly wanted to listen to him and respond to this debate on behalf of the Government. He speaks with both knowledge and understanding, and the House always listens to what he says with very great attention and respect. This afternoon, we have seen why, from his thoughtful and interesting contribution.

My hon. Friend asked a number of questions but started by making it clear that the relationship with China is far more complex than the relationship with Russia. In anything one does with international development, one sees how very true that is. He also spoke about dumping, as indeed did Justin Madders. I want to make a couple of comments about that. Having left the European Union, the UK has numerous trade remedy measures in place to protect against practices that have an adverse effect on the UK’s prosperity and security. We will always respond vigorously to unfair trading practices wherever they occur by working with the Trade Remedies Authority to protect the UK’s interests. We would encourage UK industry to apply to the independent Trade Remedies Authority if it has concerns, and we always stand ready to look at any recommendations that the TRA provides. More broadly, Britain has three active trade remedy investigations into Chinese products at the moment, and an additional 12 reviews of existing measures on Chinese exports.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight asked me about genomic research, and if he will allow me, I would like to think about that and write to him in response to his question. He also raised the issue of fentanyl. We recognise the importance of the fentanyl issue to the United States, and we welcome the US-China dialogue on that. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston warned of the need for vigilance, and he made a number of extremely important comments in that respect. He also, in response to an intervention by Neil Coyle, underlined the difference between the CCP and the Chinese people. He also made some very important points about supply chains.

My hon. Friend Mark Logan spoke with profound and detailed knowledge. I was not sure whether he is a gamekeeper turned poacher, or a poacher turned gamekeeper, but his comments were both informed and extremely interesting. Stewart Malcolm McDonald spoke about exports, education and energy, and he expressed a number of interesting thoughts on devolution and dependency on which I will reflect, if I may. Jim Shannon spoke up, as he always does, for the importance of human rights, and he urged that we should not allow economic interests to override our moral obligations. He spoke about freedom of religious belief. I will come on to that, but we are very grateful for what he said. Brendan O’Hara discussed a number of different aspects of the wide issues we are discussing. As I hope to show, his suggestion that we are merely paying lip service to these vital issues is simply not correct.

I turn finally to the remarks made by Catherine West, whose expertise in this area, as another China expert, I discovered to my humility. I thank her for her remarks on Ben Rogers, with which I think the House will widely agree. The hon. Lady chides us for the changes in our stance over the last 14 years in government, but I put it to her that as the circumstances and facts on the grounds have changed, so too have our policies and our approach.

China is a major global actor with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It has an impact on almost every global issue of importance to the UK, and therefore no significant global problem can be solved without China. We must engage with Beijing on issues affecting us all. The Government recognise the epoch-defining challenge presented by China under the CCP, and our response and approach are based on three key pillars. This House will be familiar with these pillars, but I hope Members will allow me very briefly to set them out to frame my response on the issues that have been raised.

The first is about protecting our national security through key measures. I refer specifically to the National Security and Investment Act 2021 and enhanced export controls. Secondly, we have deepened co-operation with our allies and partners, including where China undermines regional peace and stability in the South China sea, and sanctioning Chinese companies providing dual-use goods to Russia. We join our allies and partners to call out China’s human rights violations. Thirdly, we engage with China where it is in our interest to do so: on global challenges such as climate and artificial intelligence, through, for instance, the AI safety summit.

If Members will allow me, I will reflect on some of the specific issues that have been raised in a little more detail, beginning with national security, which is our top priority in engagement with China. I am sure they will understand that I cannot comment on cases that are before the courts. However, we make our concerns clear. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary summoned the Chinese ambassador to the Foreign Office, and we were unequivocal in setting out that the recent pattern of behaviour directed by China against Britain, including cyber-attacks, reports of espionage links and the issue of bounties, is simply unacceptable.

Turning to cyber-security, the House will be aware that we have attributed cyber-attacks to Chinese actors and imposed sanctions against those who are responsible. The Foreign Secretary has raised this directly with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, and the Government have ordered the removal of Huawei from the 5G networks. Our wider work to bolster our national security includes establishing the defending democracy taskforce in 2022 and passing the National Security Act in 2023.

On human rights, it is, of course, a matter of great concern that the Chinese people are facing growing restrictions on fundamental freedoms and that the Chinese authorities continue to commit widespread human rights violations. Those include severe constraints on media freedom and freedom of religion or belief, repression of culture and language in Tibet and systematic violations in Xinjiang. The UK continues to lead international efforts to address China’s human rights record.