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China: Diplomatic and Economic Relations

Volume 604: debated on Tuesday 12 January 2016

8. What recent assessment he has made of the strength of diplomatic and economic relations between China and the UK. (902970)

Our diplomatic and economic relationships with China are stronger than ever. Last year’s state visit by President Xi Jinping delivered substantial benefits for the UK economy and established a new global partnership. Last week in Beijing I launched a new visa service to boost tourism and business, announced plans to build a new embassy to better serve our interests and reflect the level of our bilateral relationship, and reaffirmed the common approach with a common statement on the Syria crisis. Those are all achievements.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s recent visit to China. Does he agree that with China set to become the world’s largest economy in the first half of the century we should be using every opportunity to boost our exports to the Chinese market of 1.3 billion people to help secure jobs in my constituency and across the United Kingdom?

China is a vital trade partner. It is also an important investment partner, with a huge willingness to invest in UK infrastructure and a huge ability to absorb investment by UK companies in China. Our relationship with China is about more than just trade and investment, however. As the relationship grows, we will have increasing opportunities to engage with the Chinese on other key interests and to make our voice heard.

What opportunities will arise for those who wish to export food produce from the United Kingdom to China? What further discussions have taken place with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, following her visit to that country in November?

The hon. Lady puts her finger on a very topical subject. I discussed it again with the Chinese Foreign Minister during my visit. We look forward to Chinese customers being able to buy excellent British beef and lamb in their supermarkets in the very near future. The Chinese have assured us that they will make progress towards the necessary regulatory amendments to allow that to happen.

Our strategic partnership with China is incredibly important, not least to trade and investment. My right hon. Friend will know that the all-party group I chair has promised to help 50 parliamentarians organise China seminars in their constituencies during this Parliament. Upholding the rule of law is also important, particularly to British business confidence in Hong Kong at the moment. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the disappearance of British citizen Mr Lee Bo?

Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that a proper rule of law system is vital for the economic, as well as the social, development of China. The Chinese Communist party is committed to implementing the full rule of law in China by 2020 and we are committed to supporting it in that endeavour. On the question of Mr Lee Bo, I raised the case with the Chinese Foreign Minister last week. The joint declaration and the basic law are clear that law enforcement in Hong Kong is a matter for the Hong Kong authorities, and that offences committed in Hong Kong should be tried in Hong Kong courts. As I said while I was in Beijing, if it turns out, as some have speculated, that Chinese state security entities have spirited Mr Bo out of Hong Kong, that would be an egregious breach of the basic law of the joint declaration, and of the principle of one country, two systems, which we very much support.

It is of course right for the Government to pursue a stronger relationship with China, but it is also true that they should tackle unfair trading practices when they come across them. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the contribution he is making to tackle the Chinese Government over the unfair dumping of Chinese steel imports on the UK market?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We raised this issue with President Xi when he was here in October. We were given a commitment that China intends to address its overproduction of steel. The problem is not only China, of course; this is a global problem. The Chinese said they were going to close some of their more polluting steel plants. I pressed them on that in Beijing last week and emphasised to them that it is through the prism of steel that their claims to be treated as a market economy are likely to be judged in the European Union. If they want a fair hearing on market economy status, they must address the steel issue. It is in their interests to do so.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the common statement, between the UK and China, on Syria. What action will he take to express concern at recent reports that Chinese police have arrested worker activists in the manufacturing centre of Guangdong? Does he agree that the current crackdown on labour rights NGOs in China does nothing to calm jitters in the context of the current economic downturn?

Regrettably, such incidents do occur in China, but we have a forum for raising concerns, through a formal human rights dialogue with China. We expect the next human rights summit to be in March or April, and we have a list of issues we will raise with the Chinese, including the question of how they operate around labour activists.

I always used to wonder why Foreign Office questions took longer. A senior Clerk said to me, “Mr Speaker, the reason they tend to take longer is that Ministers, perhaps understandably, feel they are addressing not merely the House but the world.” I think that probably explains it, but I would like to make a bit of progress.