Skip to main content

Long-Term Strategic Challenges Posed by China

Volume 833: debated on Thursday 19 October 2023

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of His Majesty’s Government’s position on the long-term strategic challenges posed by China.

My Lords, in what has turned out to be a troubled and turbulent year in global affairs—from the war in Ukraine to bitter conflict in the Middle East and renewed conflict in Asia and Africa, alongside a range of humanitarian crises across several continents —it is important that we should give ourselves time in this House to consider the long-term perspective on our country’s international interests and priorities. In that context, few countries in the world assume as great a relevance to long-term global stability and prosperity as the People’s Republic of China. I therefore welcome the opportunity to commence this debate by explaining the policy approach of His Majesty’s Government to the many facets of our relationship with China.

The House will remember that in 2021 the Government’s integrated review assessed that China’s increasing assertiveness and growing impact on many aspects of our lives will be one of the defining factors of the 21st century. Earlier this year, the integrated review refresh explained how we are responding head-on to a more volatile and contested world. It recognised the major events of the last two years and the epoch-defining and systemic challenge that China presents in terms of military, diplomatic and economic activity. It also set out the three pillars of the Government’s approach to China: protecting our national security, aligning with our allies and partners and engaging with China where it is in the UK’s interests to do so. In speaking of our interests, let me be clear: when there are tensions with other objectives, we will always put our national interests and security first.

In his Mansion House speech in April, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary explained the Government’s policy on China in some detail. A starting point for our approach must be to recognise

“the depth and complexity of Chinese history and civilisation”.

One of the greatest strengths of our relationship are the personal and cultural links between the people of our countries. The British-Chinese diaspora plays an important role in our communities and our culture and we continue to welcome hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to the UK, always working to ensure that they are treated as well as any other students, whether from Britain or elsewhere.

Just now I used the phrase “epoch defining”. Let me therefore explain the systemic challenge that China under the Chinese Communist Party represents. Like it or not, we must recognise that China is becoming more authoritarian at home and more assertive overseas. Internationally, China’s new approach to multilateralism is challenging the centrality of human rights and freedoms in the UN system. Within its borders, people face growing restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and the Chinese authorities continue to commit widespread human rights violations. Internationally, China is failing to live up to its commitments, as well as to guarantees in its own constitution. Along with our partners, we want to see all countries respect fundamental freedoms and the rights of ethnic minorities. We expect China, as a leading member of the international community, to adhere to the legally binding agreements it has freely signed up to.

In Xinjiang, members of Uighur and other predominantly Muslim minorities continue to suffer serious violations of their human rights. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded, relying extensively on China’s own records, that Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang

“may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.

In Hong Kong, China’s imposition of the national security law has seen opposition stifled and dissent criminalised. Three years on, we have seen how this opaque and sweeping law has undermined rights and freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration and in Hong Kong’s own basic law. Alternative voices across Hong Kong’s society have been all but extinguished, and changes to electoral rules have further eroded the ability of Hong Kongers to be legitimately represented at all levels of government. Hong Kong’s governance, rights and social systems are now closer to mainland norms.

Turning to the wider region, China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait threatens to bring danger, disorder and division, risking the rule of law and global security and prosperity. China has rapidly modernised its military and done so in an opaque manner. It has militarised disputed islands in the South China Sea. We in the UK have a clear interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. We have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan but a strong unofficial relationship, based on deep and growing ties in a wide range of areas, and underpinned by shared democratic values. As the Foreign Secretary outlined in his Mansion House speech, the UK believes that the tensions over Taiwan must be settled by the people on both sides of the strait through constructive dialogue, without the threat or use of force or coercion. We do not, and will not, support any unilateral attempts to change the status quo.

As I mentioned, there are three pillars in our approach to China: protect, align and engage. Let me talk first about “protect”. We are strengthening our protections in those areas where China’s actions pose a threat to our people, prosperity and security. The Deputy Prime Minister has spoken of the reported allegations of espionage on behalf of China within Parliament. As the House will expect me to say, I cannot comment on any specific aspect of what is a live investigation. However, it remains an absolute priority for the Government to take all necessary steps to protect the United Kingdom from any foreign state activity that seeks to undermine our national security, prosperity and democratic values.

We have structures in place to identify foreign interference and potential threats to our democracy. These include the new National Security Act, including creating a new offence of foreign interference, and the defending democracy task force, which was established in November last year. These measures supplement steps we have taken to protect the UK’s interests, having created new powers to protect our critical industries under the National Security and Investment Act, having removed Huawei technology from UK 5G networks and having instructed the Chinese embassy to close the so-called Chinese overseas police service stations this year.

On human rights, the UK has led international efforts to hold China to account for its wide-scale violations, including in Xinjiang. We were the first country to lead at the UN a joint statement on China’s human rights record in Xinjiang. I am pleased to say that, just yesterday, the UK led a further joint statement in the UN on the situation in Xinjiang, with 50 other signatories. In this statement, we urged China to end its violations of human rights in Xinjiang, engage constructively with the UN human rights system and fully implement the recommendations of last year’s UN assessment. We have worked tirelessly through our global diplomatic network. Our leadership has sustained pressure on China to change its behaviour and has increased the number of countries speaking out in support of human rights in China.

We have also implemented measures to ensure that UK organisations are not complicit in these violations through their supply chains by introducing new guidance on the risks of doing business in Xinjiang. In addition, we have enhanced export controls and announced the introduction of financial penalties under the Modern Slavery Act 2015. We continue to call China out and pressure it to change course.

On Hong Kong, we have made clear that China’s attempts to use the national security law to pursue self-exiled activists are unacceptable. We will never tolerate attempts by the authorities to intimidate and silence individuals, whether they live in Hong Kong or overseas. In response to the introduction of the national security law in 2020, we acted quickly and decisively to introduce a bespoke immigration route for British national (overseas) status holders and their immediate family members. More than 176,000 BNO visas have been granted by the Home Office, providing a route to UK citizenship. To support their integration into our communities, the Government launched the Welcome Programme in 2021 for Hong Kongers moving to the UK through this route. We welcome the contribution that this growing diaspora makes to life in the UK, just as we welcome the contribution of the diaspora with links to mainland China. We will continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong—rights and freedoms that China promised to protect when it signed the Sino-British joint declaration.

As the integrated review refresh makes clear, the UK has limited agency to influence China’s actions on our own, which is why we are deepening our alignment with core allies and a broader group of partners. Regional partnerships are especially important in defence and security. We are deepening our engagement with Indo-Pacific countries bilaterally and multilaterally, and with smaller groups of like-minded partners. The Five Power Defence Arrangements, where we work together with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, reached its 50th anniversary last year. The AUKUS defence partnership with Australia and the US also strengthens regional peace and stability, and the UK has responded positively to requests to build their capacity in maritime security through the AUKUS submarine project.

We have demonstrated our commitment through the successful deployment of the UK carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific in 2021. It engaged with 40 countries there, and we will also be deploying the littoral response group into the region in 2024. The Prime Minister has announced a further carrier strike group deployment in 2025. Two Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels, now stationed permanently in the region, are further deepening this partnership and supporting capacity building.

The Government recognise that China uses its influence in the global economy to pursue its foreign policy objectives. That brings risks to trade, investment and our supply chains in today’s interconnected world. We monitor this closely and are working to strengthen the UK’s critical supply chain resilience and avoid strategic dependency. This includes international collaboration with allies and partners to discourage trade restrictions and coercive measures.

We are in the final phase of accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will deepen the UK’s economic ties with partners in the Indo-Pacific region. By acceding to the CPTPP, the UK will join a valuable network of countries committed to the international rules and norms that underpin free trade.

The third and final pillar of our approach to China is “engage”. Here it is essential for us to recognise the size and significance of China’s influence on almost every global issue. China is a major global actor as a G20 member with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. It accounts for nearly a fifth of the world economy and is a major investor in the developing world. Therefore, no significant global problem can be solved without China. We must engage with Beijing, alongside our partners, on issues that will affect us all. We must continue to engage directly with China towards open, constructive and stable relations to manage disagreements, defend our freedoms and co-operate where our interests align. That is exactly what the Prime Minister did when he met Premier Li Qiang at the G20 New Delhi summit last month, and what the Foreign Secretary did when he met his counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing in August.

It is through engagements such as those that the UK can find ways to work together as well as discuss issues where we disagree strongly with China through direct and unambiguous dialogue. AI is a good example, and the UK will host the AI safety summit next month. Some have called for China to be excluded from this conversation, but it is clear that it will take global co-operation to tackle the challenges that come with that emerging technology, even if we do not share the same values.

Take global warming. As the world’s largest investor in sustainable energy and the largest emitter of carbon, the choices that China makes are critical to our collective ability to tackle climate change. To deliver our global climate goals, we must engage with China. For example, we are working with China and other financiers of international coal to accelerate momentum and ambition for the global transition through our COP 26 energy transition campaign. In other areas, such as global health and pandemic preparedness, decisions taken by China have the potential to have a profound impact on our lives at home.

The UK is an open economy. The Government welcome foreign trade and investment to support growth and jobs, including from China. We will not accept commercial activity that compromises our national security or values, and we have safeguards in place that enable us to engage with Chinese investors and businesses with confidence. The National Security and Investment Act came into force in January 2022 to allow the Government to intervene in acquisitions where we have national security concerns. We will not hesitate to use the Act’s powers if necessary. The Act’s annual report and final orders document the use of NSI powers to date, including to block eight acquisitions by Chinese companies. We also introduced a package of measures in May last year to update the UK’s export control regime. This enhanced our military end-use controls and added China to the list of destinations to which those controls apply. These changes strengthen our ability to prevent exports, and address threats to national security and human rights.

The complex challenges posed by China call for a carefully nuanced policy from government. The three-faceted approach that I have outlined—to protect our national security, align with our allies and partners, and engage with China where it is in the UK’s interests to do so—is, I believe, the right and responsible approach for the long-term peace and prosperity of our country. I commend it to the House and beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his introduction. There is a recognition that we are in very dangerous and difficult times, but I understand that it is important to focus on this relationship in particular. In his introduction, he outlined the policy towards China through three interrelated strands—or pillars, as he called them: protect, align and engage. That means to protect by strengthening national security protections, to align by deepening co-operation and alignment with key allies, and to engage through bilateral channels with China and international forums.

But has that policy been translated into action? I think we will hear in this debate some of the challenges to the assertions made by the noble Earl. For example, Bronwen Maddox of Chatham House has suggested that positions taken by the United Kingdom on China have sometimes differed from those of the Biden Administration. How are we working and aligning ourselves with our key allies in the Atlantic treaty and the European Union?

The belt and road initiative has seen China actively financing infrastructure in developing countries, with investment in more than 150 countries since 2013. In 2021, reports stated that the Prime Minister was working with democratic allies to design an alternative. Is that progressing? Where is the evidence? What have we seen in recent times?

The noble Earl mentioned artificial intelligence. We have seen interference in our democratic processes and the use of AI in fake news, particularly in the attacks on the leader of the Opposition. These are real threats to our democracy. All telecom operators have been told to strip Huawei from 5G by the end of 2027. What progress has been made on that? What measures do the Government have in place to combat potential threats through telecoms until our systems are free of that equipment?

The recent ISC report on China warned that:

“The UK’s academic institutions provide a rich feeding ground for China”

to gain political and economic influence in the United Kingdom. The noble Earl mentioned the review on protecting the academic sector that was outlined in the integrated review. When will we see the results of that? MI5 has estimated this week that 10,000 UK businesses, particularly those involved in key technologies and sciences, are at risk of Chinese espionage. Where is the evidence that we are acting on that? The ISC has warned that:

“China’s size, ambition and capability have enabled it to successfully penetrate every sector of the UK’s economy”.

Will the Government therefore back Labour’s plan for a joint Treasury-Home Office task force to drive forward work on keeping the UK safe from these economic threats to our security?

In government, Labour will take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach to China, standing firm in defence of our national security, international law and human rights while seeking to engage where it is in our interests to do so, particularly on the global challenges the noble Earl mentioned, such as climate change and global health. Our strategy is to compete where we need to, co-operate where we can and challenge China where we must.

China is the world’s most populous country and its second-largest economy. As the noble Earl said, our relationship is complex. China is one of the UK’s largest trading partners, with bilateral trade worth more than £100 billion and 140,000 Chinese students studying here. However, its rising economic and political power has seen a growing pattern of repression domestically and more assertive action abroad, as well as unfair trade practices. We are also very concerned about hostile Chinese action on UK soil—for example, in its efforts to silence and intimidate critics. It is essential that we work with our allies and partners to address these challenges, strengthening the international rule of law and the multilateral institutions that support it.

China remains crucial to addressing many global issues and is deeply integrated into the world economy. We will engage with it on the basis of our national interest, based on clear principles, but not be afraid to speak out on human rights. We have consistently condemned the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong and the plight of the Uighur people, which the United Nations has said may constitute crimes against humanity.

We too welcome and support the BNOs who have arrived in this country and are a very important part of our community. We show support also for those BNOs and nationals who are still in Hong Kong, particularly those who, like Jimmy Lai, have been imprisoned for standing up for democracy. I hope the Minister will respond in terms of what we are doing to support him and other British nationals who have been imprisoned for standing up for democracy.

The problem is that we have had an approach to China that has been inadequate and does not focus sufficiently on managing future security risks. In government, Labour will carry out a complete audit of UK-China relations to ensure that the relationship reflects our interest and values so we can set a consistent strategy for the long term—something that this Government have refused to do or adopt. A Labour Government will increase our independence in critical national infrastructure and not repeat some of the mistakes this Government made over Huawei and nuclear power. We will work with our allies to provide real alternatives to China’s finance and investment in the developing world, focused on addressing poverty, strengthening global health and accelerating climate action and adaptation. We want to see a dialogue and peaceful moves to address the issues across the Taiwan Strait. We have been clear in our serious concern about China’s increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan and the attempts to intimidate its democratic leaders.

It is important to avoid accidents and miscalculations that raise tension or risk escalation. As the noble Earl mentioned, these actions are part of a wider pattern by China, which is becoming more assertive, as we have seen in the South China Sea. We have been very clear in challenging repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. It is also absolutely wrong that China has brought sanctions against UK parliamentarians for raising these concerns, particularly Members of this House—I mention the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

The Government are divided on how to approach China and have no clear strategy, leading to U-turns and inconsistent rhetoric. Despite the noble Earl’s assertion, there is a lack of guidance for business on trade with China, and the Government’s so-called “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific has been underresourced. The Labour Government would take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach, and we will maintain the consistent position of successive British Governments around the recognition of Taiwan. However, we support Taiwan being an observer at organisations such as the WHO. If we are to really challenge global health pandemics and address global health issues, we need to ensure that Taiwan’s expertise is heard in forums such as the WHO.

The noble Earl mentioned AUKUS, which has Labour’s full backing. We welcome increased defence co-operation with key allies. The US and Australia are two of our closest partners. We need to ensure that that continues and my noble friend will address this in more detail in his contribution. We are confident that AUKUS adheres to all nuclear non-proliferation treaties and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

In conclusion, this debate is not about tilting one way or the other. Maintaining serious, long-term strategic approaches to the Indo-Pacific, through arrangements such as AUKUS, is an essential response to the shifting centre of gravity in world affairs. This will not come at the cost of our security commitments in Europe, nor mean that we can safely ignore our own neighbourhood.

My Lords, I am also grateful to the Minister for giving us the opportunity to study and discuss this question of the long-term strategic challenges posed by China. It will be no great surprise, and scarcely a matter of a declaration of interest, for me to say that liberal democratic principles are absolutely key for me and liberal democratic practices are something that I want to continue to engage in and encourage. Nor would it be doing more than stating the obvious to say that this was not shared by the People’s Republic of China.

In doing so, it is important for us to try to deepen our understanding of what is happening in our wider world. It is changing, and it is not easy to know how best to deal with it. It is important that we stand up for principles, for example those of human rights. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, for commending my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool for his strong stance in that regard—not only in respect of China, but notably so.

I also noted what the noble Lord said about Taiwan and the WHO. It reminded me of an experience I had myself quite some years ago. I was president of Liberal International, which has had consultative status on the ECOSOC committee of the UN since 1985. But, in March 2007, the DPP, a member party from Taiwan, was on a Liberal International delegation at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The question of WHO membership for Taiwan was raised by the DPP member—not very surprisingly. There was no questioning of the diplomatic status of China, which had always been respected by Liberal International—just the possibility of WHO membership for Taiwan. However, the People’s Republic of China took grave exception to this, and in May of that year, 2007, just a few weeks later, the UN NGO committee recommended the withdrawal of general consultative status for Liberal International because of this incident.

I discussed this with UN representatives from a number of our friendly nations: the United States, all the EU members and the ambassadors of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel and of course the United Kingdom. All of them were opposed to the exclusion of Liberal International on the basis of this episode. However, it became clear that it was going to be approved anyway, because the People’s Republic of China in 2007 effectively had control of the United Nations General Assembly. There were enough of the other members that were going to support the PRC whatever the situation. So, I engaged directly with representatives of the People’s Republic of China at the embassy here in London, and after negotiations we were able to reach an agreement. It was that Liberal International would accept exclusion for one year but the PRC would not object to its restoration and, when restored, the LI would observe a self-denying ordinance whereby its delegates would not address, in the name of Liberal International or as part of its delegation, issues that referred to its own domestic agenda. Others could refer to the case of Taiwan but not the Taiwanese. The Taiwanese could refer to anything else; Taiwan was not even mentioned in the agreement, but the background to it was very clear.

That was accepted by the PRC and I wrote to the chairman of ECOSOC in that regard. Liberal International was removed for 12 months and then came back. There was no objection from PRC and has not been in the 15 years since then. I took three things from that. The first was that, while I had previously visited Taiwan, I had not, I think, understood quite how exquisitely sensitive the issue of Taiwan was. Indeed, one of the diplomats from the embassy here said to me, “It is the most important foreign policy issue for China”. I said, “Look at all the other important issues”, but he said, “No, you don’t understand. It is the most important issue”. I think we need to keep that in mind.

Secondly, whatever our thoughts about these things and however much support we have from our traditional friends, the General Assembly of the United Nations has, in effect, been controlled for some decades by the PRC, which also has its veto power in the Security Council. Thirdly, and more positively, if one were to reach an agreed and negotiated outcome, the PRC would live with it and continue to do so. As I said, 15 years later, it has not reneged on the decision on Liberal International.

The situation in our world changed and we have to recognise that we are no longer quite the power that we were in the West. In 2008, undoubtedly educated by that experience the previous year, I wrote a paper with my friend Sundeep Waslekar about talks and dialogue in the Middle East. We did not call it “the Middle East” because he comes from India, so I learned that to him it was “west Asia”—another example of how we need to take into account the cultural and intellectual perspectives of others from a different part of the world. It was published in India and Global Affairs in 2008. We wrote:

“If Israel and the Arab parties do not find a comprehensive solution soon, Iran can be expected to be an even more direct player in the near future. If a few more years are allowed to pass”,

Russia and China will develop significant stakes in the region. We also said that, at that time, it would have been possible to negotiate knowing English, Hebrew and Arabic, but if it were left too long people would need to learn Russian and Chinese as well.

One of the difficulties that has emerged is about our understanding and appreciation that people have very different perspectives from ours. As liberals in the Isaiah Berlin tradition, we have long been prepared to indicate that, of course, others have cultural differences from us and different principles and perspectives. But when they start having different perspectives on, say, human rights or fundamentally different cultural perspectives, or an attachment to forms of religion we do not easily accept, our tolerance and appreciation of those differences sometimes become difficult to sustain. For example, in July 2023, an article in China Daily, “Toward a Fair World Rights Order”, described how very important it is that we accept that there is no enforcement of

“uniformity on others, in the belief that certain traditions and systems are inherently superior”.

When we were sure that ours would be superior and would carry the day, we would have been happy to sign up for that, but now that that is no longer the case it is much more of a challenge for us. It seems to me that there is a very significant challenge, intellectually and politically, to us as we to try to struggle with this question.

I will take a more practical aspect: economics. One of the things that struck me a great deal when engaging with colleagues around the world was how absolutely enormously much of the rest of the world resents the power of the US dollar. The fact that it is the reserve currency has allowed massive debt to be created that can be resolved simply by printing more dollars. My sense of things, as I have listened to people over the last few years, is that we may well, in the next year or two, find Russia, China and others trying to construct some kind of alternative reserve currency. We have been through that before: sterling used to be a strong reserve currency. We still have our pound, but it is not in the same place as it was. If the United States finds itself experiencing that, it will be difficult intellectually—in terms of human, civil and political rights—to complain about it, but the consequences would be absolutely enormous; indeed, potentially catastrophic. It seems to me that there is a lot to be said as we struggle with these questions, so I entirely appreciate that, when the integrated review refresh talks about

“an epoch-defining and systemic challenge”,

it is absolutely right to do so.

It is important to appreciate that China is a challenge, a competitor—it may be a rival in some areas but I am not sure that we measure up enough for it to be a rival in the major areas. Economically, the rivalry is with the United States and the European Union, militarily it is with the United States, but what is crucial is that this rivalry, challenge, difference and disagreement do not lead us into what Graham Allison called the Thucydides trap of making China into an enemy. That is why it is crucial that the Foreign Secretary went to Beijing, kept open the channels of communication, talked, listened and engaged, because when someone is a competitor or a rival, but you maintain communication, they do not necessarily need to become an enemy. You can sit there and disagree, argue, discuss and perhaps even sometimes to some degree change each other’s mind, but you do not become an enemy. What humankind would not be able to sustain is China becoming an enemy of the United States, Europe and our allies.

There are many things that we can co-operate on. Some of them have been mentioned by the Minister: environmental questions, crucially, and artificial intelligence. I welcome the fact that the Chinese will be here next month at Bletchley Park. There is the whole nuclear question. In the 1970s, we had to engage across the Cold War divide with Russia and establish the CSCE and, ultimately, the OSCE. Why? Because we agreed? No, because we did not agree and we needed to engage with those whom we disagreed absolutely profoundly, including on all issues such as human rights, the economy and so on. Why? To make sure that there was still a world for our children and grandchildren to inhabit and not one that was destroyed by nuclear war.

It will be absolutely critical that on a question of that kind we have the kinds of structures that enable us to engage China and ensure the safety of the world. China can be helpful to us on the Russia/Ukraine question, it can be helpful to all of us on the Middle East question—the west Asia question—and it can even be helpful to us on issues such as North Korea, but it will be able to be helpful only if we can disagree in a civil way, engage in communication and collaboration on some common interests, and ensure that China becomes whatever kind of competitor—and it may be more successful than we would like to believe—but that it does not become an enemy.

My Lords, I, too, welcome this important debate, but what a pity that we could not have held it a year ago, following the report of your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee on the UK’s security and trade relationship with China, rather than the meagre and truncated affair we had in the Moses Room at the time. The passage of a year has, however, not diminished the report’s arguments. Its central thrust remains as valid today as it was then, and is reflected in the second part of its title: “a strategic void”.

In his opening remarks, the noble Earl made frequent reference to the Government’s integrated review and its subsequent refresh. That review contained many aspirations and listed many activities, including in the sections on China and the Indo-Pacific, and it is difficult to disagree with them. But lists are not strategies; nor, frankly, are the pillars to which he referred. They do not aid clarity; indeed, they often confuse. A fundamental aspect of a strategy is a clear sense of priority. The International Relations and Defence Committee’s report, like that of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, called on the Government to produce a strategy which would set out a prioritised framework for dealing with China, and, indeed, suggested what such a strategy might look like.

In their response, the Government seem to suggest that they have a strategy, but that they are not going to tell us what it is for security reasons. This, if it was more than just camouflage, is, to say the least, unconvincing. No one expects the Government to reveal exact plans, specific means and tactical details, if indeed they exist. I for one certainly acknowledge that intentional ambiguity can be useful in certain situations, but businesses wishing to engage with China need a clear idea of the risks they might be running. Academic institutions, too, need a sense of how the Government might react to certain developments on the international scene. They do not need to know exactly what those reactions would be, but they need to be aware of where the Government’s priorities are.

The issue of Taiwan is clearly the most dangerous aspect of our engagement with China. Supporting that country’s independence while avoiding a general war over it should be our top priority. President Xi’s statements in recent years have only added to the tension over Taiwan. The Government’s response to the report acknowledged the importance of the issue, as did the noble Earl. However, the Government have not said what assessments have been made of the risk of likelihood of conflict and its possible consequences, particularly for the UK. This is not an area where I would look for detail, but I do look for an assurance that such work is in hand.

Beyond that, it is clear that China is, as one of the inquiry’s witnesses put it, out to make the world safe for autocracy. Events over recent months have served only to reinforce that judgment—witness President Xi’s comments at the belt and road forum in Beijing yesterday. Meanwhile, as we have heard, the head of the Security Service has said that China is engaging in an “epic scale” of espionage. The fact that he was making common cause with the heads of security of the other members of the Five Eyes partnership at an unprecedented public event should give us pause.

The Government’s response to the International Relations and Defence Committee’s report admitted:

“Aspects of China’s approach to the multilateral system run counter to UK interests and values”.

The response went on:

“We will continue to take targeted action with international partners to defend universal human rights, free and fair trade, and ensure that in areas, such as emerging technology or space, that new rules, norms and standards enable freedom and democracy to survive and thrive”.

This is woefully inadequate. It makes the whole thing sound like a piece of peripheral business. In fact, we are—or certainly should be—engaged in a fierce contest to determine the rules of the international order under which we will have to live and operate for most of the rest of this century. Very few things could be more central to our future welfare and prosperity. Securing the right outcome should be one of the highest foreign policy priorities for the UK. It certainly is for the United States. President Biden has made his Administration’s position very clear on this and has set about assembling the necessary international economic, technological and military weight to counter that of China.

None of this is to argue against the desirability of business, academic and cultural links with China, but setting out the UK’s priorities in this regard would make it clear that those other areas of engagement would all be contingent upon the pursuit of our objectives regarding the international order. This would be a much clearer and harder-edged statement of intent than a general reference to our national interest. It is difficult to see how spelling this out would endanger our security. It would, however, give those in business and elsewhere a clearer idea of the downside risks associated with such engagement. As it is, if one reads the Government’s comments regarding Huawei, for example, one gets the clear impression that this company would now have a substantial hold over our 5G network had the Americans not rather annoyingly imposed additional sanctions on them. The Government’s response to the committee’s report said that the National Security and Investment Act is “country agnostic”. That might be true with regard to the wording of the Act, but to suggest that the same is true of its application seems to be breathtakingly complacent. I welcome the fact that the noble Earl was somewhat more robust on this point today.

The principal risk for UK business is the likely adverse China reaction to our opposition in the contest to determine the future rules of the international order. The committee called on the Government to conduct an impact assessment of such an outcome. The Government’s response was a fine example of departmental waffle. Let me offer some examples:

“The … relationship … is multifaceted … We will … manage disagreements and defend our values while preserving space for cooperation in tackling … positive trade and investment relationship in line with our national security and values”.

It is cakeism at its best. But what do we do if somebody takes away the cake? We are given no answer.

This Panglossian approach was equally evident in the Government’s response on higher education, which said:

“We will also ensure that Chinese students are treated equally to all British and international students, including protecting them from any undue pressure on political issues”.

Really? How? Are we going to ensure that their families in China are protected from official pressure or sanction? Are we going to monitor all their interactions with their own Government? Or perhaps these matters do not fall under the heading of “undue pressure”.

The Government’s response on supply chain resilience was little better. We were told:

“The Foreign Secretary has been clear that it is important that the UK does not become strategically dependent, and that, particularly in areas of Critical National Infrastructure, we work with reliable partners”.

The noble Earl repeated such assurances in his opening remarks today. What action has followed? What exercises have been undertaken with a range of scenarios to give us a better idea of critical vulnerabilities and how these might be reduced? What specific command and control processes have been set in place to train for and respond to threats to our national resilience? Once again, we have been given only vague reassurances.

I hope that the Minister might be a little more forthcoming when he winds up this debate, because the Government could and should do much better. We are dealing with an increasingly autocratic regime in China. Our experiences with Russia over the past decade should have taught us what we should never have forgotten: how dangerous such regimes can be, especially when they are militarily powerful and most especially when they have nuclear weapons. We need a long-term strategy for dealing with them.

The Government should set out such a strategy; they should give some shape and sense of priority to their otherwise all too comprehensive and sometimes contradictory aspirations with regard to China. The International Relations and Defence Committee proposed such a shape: finding a satisfactory but peaceful outcome to the Taiwan issue is at the top, but close behind it comes our pursuit of an international order that is fair to all and helps to protect the world from autocracy. Trade and wider engagement with China should be pursued, but not at the expense of higher priority objectives and in the knowledge that such prioritisation will at times lead to Chinese retaliation and will give rise to associated and sometimes severe risks. How much longer must we wait for some clarity on these issues?

In a leader article on China last year, the Economist said:

“handling the most powerful dictatorship in history was always going to require both strength and wisdom”.

It was not clear to me then, and it is not much clearer to me now, that we see enough of either.

My Lords, we have heard some very interesting, excellent and clear speeches so far in this debate, starting with my noble friend the Minister. It is particularly a pleasure to follow the speech we have just heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup.

The truth is that our relationship with China gets discussed almost everywhere on a whole spectrum of attitudes. At one extreme, we have those who say, “Stop worrying: do not get overly hysterical” and take a relaxed view that there is nothing much to be done—China is China, just carry on and it will rise and fall, and maybe rise again in the way things do in history. At another extreme, we have the “China is the enemy brigade” in line with the hard-line Manichean view held by some people in America like Mr Pompeo in the Trump Administration. It is an almost McCarthyite attitude that says China is going all-out to undermine and destroy everything around us, there are Chinese under every bed, and Chinese sympathisers must be hunted out and denounced.

Midway between these two extremes we have the UK official position, set out very closely by the noble Earl, as stated in the latest “refresh” version of the Downing Street integrated review—and I am afraid, with the way things are going, we are going to need another one quite soon, as events move so fast on this planet.

That one states, as my noble friend said, that China poses an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge” and calls for the three items that my noble friend mentioned: protection, which is safeguarding our critical national infrastructure and supply lines; alignment, which means working with everybody else to contain Chinese activities around the world; and engagement in varying degrees, which means creating space for a positive trade and investment relationship. All that sounds really quite sensible as far as it goes, but I believe—I am with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, here—that even this position, let alone the extreme stances described, is not really clever or subtle enough to deal with the phenomenon of today’s China.

I would argue that some deeper approaches are needed, which I will comment on. I first give a few facts. I begin with climate issues, which my noble friend on the Front Bench referenced. Even though China is an enormous investor in renewables—maybe the world’s biggest—its coal burning for electricity is currently around 1,000 gigawatts, which is about 58% of all its electric power. This is down from 80% but, with a recent surge of new coal-fired plants—with 45 being built or revived and 52 more planned—it is rising again. To put things into perspective, it now ends up at about 1,000 times our small, residual coal burn in this country. Together with India’s 250 gigawatts of coal plants and America at a little less, those three countries account for over 60% of rising world emissions. There is absolutely no hope of curbing climate violence, however zealous we are with our own net zero, unless these soaring emissions are somehow reversed. That is where full co-operation, and the full focus of our contribution to the battle, should be directed if we are serious about climate change.

Sometimes it seems that, with all our concentration directed inwards to achieving our very worthy net-zero goal, we forget the main aim, which is to curb world emissions and to head off the worst climate violence and planetary destruction. Sometimes I even sympathise a bit with Greta Thunberg, not her latest escapade with trying to stop oil now, which would of course cause huge world suffering and disruption for the poorest, but her more general fear that the next generation will feel completely betrayed. I do not see that the worthy but costly net zero here will make the slightest difference to the frightening rise in world emissions carrying on now. The UK is not making anything like the best and most focused contribution that it could to checking global warming, and that has strong implications for our relations with China.

Secondly, we must face the fact that, for all the rhetoric about China around the western world, trade with China is still extremely high and is growing in most areas. For the EU, it is back up to £450 billion for the last 12 months, and cheap electric vehicles are about to flood into the European system, to the alarm of the entire European motor industry. Then there is security. Obviously, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup said, Taiwan is there. The question is whether the Israel horror, coming on top of the Afghanistan withdrawal model, will tempt Xi to go earlier. Most people say that he will delay for a while, but I am not so sure. He must be looking at the situation again and wondering. I also wonder whether our eye is on the ball as China hoovers up the developing world and quite a lot of members of the Commonwealth with it. Let us keep our Five Eyes assembly, which we have just seen gather in a rather encouraging way, fully alert and supported. Whitehall seems to think that a lot of smaller islands in the South Seas and the Caribbean are too small or remote to be strategically important. But the Chinese foreign policy strategists think quite the opposite: the control of maritime routes and the so-called assistance to these small countries with policing, training and, indeed, even weapons and military advice is a crucial part of the strategic game of the world.

As for the heavy hand in Hong Kong and the appalling persecution of the Uighurs, I know that the speaker coming after me will explain with his usual perception and accuracy just what is happening. I hope we can somehow influence and delay the crushing of Hong Kong’s freedoms. It is China that will be the loser. Hong Kong was an enormously valuable asset to China in its full heyday and even now could be if China played things very differently.

As for the Chinese economy, it is a mixed picture. It all looked very good for China earlier this year. It appeared to be recovering from the Covid drama, but investment is plummeting and so is consumer demand. We now see in China slower growth; soaring debt; attempted, but of course resisted, capital flight; massive youth unemployment; a shrinking population; what is called economic long Covid; and a distinct alienation of China’s friends, thanks to the general aggressiveness of Xi Jinping’s stance. The belt and road initiative, which has been mentioned, is running up a lot of debts.

My advice would be in some respect the very opposite of that of the blinkered Sinophobes and hardliners who seem to want us to cut off all links with and somehow cancel China. We should not only engage but bring it all on. We should not only ensure that we do not cut off China but actively welcome Chinese capital, students, technology and brands. That would in fact weaken and undermine Xi’s imperial ambitions. The sensitive sectors should of course be protected, and we are going to do that, but much of Chinese intellectual property theft comes from cybercrime and espionage, some of which is very naive and childish.

Our story, under the rule of law and in freedom, is a lot better than the Chinese story. It should be told to the world with much more vigour and elan. The Chinese information flow, designed to undermine our values and our democracy, is formidably good and effective at reaching the free world and all the non-aligned countries, which is most countries now. I hope, but of course do not know, that ours is just as good in somehow reaching the Chinese on the dangers for China itself if it persists in stepping outside the comity of nations, flouting international law and disdaining the alliance of civilised nations against the coming dangers that threaten us all, of which the bestiality and bottomless evil of 7 October by the Hamas butchers is the most vivid example. The powerful attraction of an open society, draining capital out of China—as one commentator put it, “suction, not sanctions”—is the best way to weaken Chinese dominance and benefit us at the same time. It is the path we should follow.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord True, for delivering on the promise he gave the House that this debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee report would take place in your Lordships’ Chamber. I also thank the noble Earl for the way he opened the debate and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who will wind up for the Government at its conclusion. All the speeches made so far speak for themselves. They show the breadth and depth of the knowledge about these issues in your Lordships’ House.

I declare some non-financial interests: as co-chair of the All-Party Group on North Korea, as vice-chair of the all-party groups on the Uyghurs and on Hong Kong, and as a patron of Hong Kong Watch. I am not sure whether it qualifies as an interest but, as others have referred to, and for the purpose of transparency, I should say that I have been sanctioned by the People’s Republic of China and, for good measure, by Iran now as well.

The debate is taking place at a time of great darkness in the world and against the backdrop of Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine and the Hamas terror attacks in Israel. Putin and the Chinese Communist Party chairman Xi Jinping have told us that they have “no limits” in their partnership. Both Xi and Putin are aligned with Khamenei in Iran, whose theocratic regime has been bankrolling and arming Hamas and Hezbollah.

Not to be outdone, in recent weeks North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, has delivered millions of artillery shells and rockets to Russia for use in Ukraine. China and North Korea have a mutual aid and co-operation treaty, signed in 1961, which is currently the only defence treaty either country has with any nation. I have written to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, about the decision taken only last week by the PRC to forcibly repatriate North Koreans, who have been sent back to Pyongyang, in contravention of the 1951 convention on the treatment of refugees. Can the Minister tell us whether that is an issue we will be raising in the United Nations Human Rights Council, to which the People’s Republic of China, ironically, was re-elected just a few days ago?

Beyond North Korea, this new and deadly axis wants to replace the rules-based order—which has been referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Howell, Lord Alderdice and Lord Collins, and my noble and gallant friend—and the global stability that has been delivered pretty much since World War II, with rule by force and by diktat. It would be a mistake to see this alliance of dictators, theocrats, authoritarians and jihadists as separate threats. Their ideological differences will be parked temporarily as they use one another to pursue their shared hatred of the free world and its democracies. Xi Jinping sees us as weak and has frequently attacked Western values and multi-party democracy. His declared ambition is for the CCP regime to become the dominant world power by 2049, when his Communist Party will be 100 years old.

Dictators protect one another and exploit geopolitical chaos. Xi thinks nothing of making alliances and deals with Iran or, for that matter, with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, he secures the compliance of dependent countries—a point referred to by earlier speakers—by indebting them through belt and road projects and then demanding the votes of those countries at the United Nations. That too has implications, of course, for global order and security. I would be particularly keen to hear what assessment the Minister is making of the CCP’s current activities across Africa, a point made regularly in the International Relations and Defence Select Committee—on which I was proud to serve with my noble and gallant friend—by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, who is in his place.

It is against this disturbing international backdrop that the House is considering some of the key observations of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Let us remember what that report begins with:

“China’s national imperative continues to be the continuing dominance and governance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, it is its ambition at a global level – to become a technological and economic superpower, on which other countries are reliant – that represents the greatest risk to the UK.”

It explores what it calls

“the multifaceted nature of the intelligence threat posed by China”

and warns us that China pursues a “whole-of-state” approach, meaning that

“Chinese state-owned and non-state-owned companies, as well as academic and cultural establishments and ordinary Chinese citizens, are liable to be (willingly or unwillingly) co-opted into espionage and interference operations overseas”.

Most alarmingly, though, for me, the committee concludes that China has been able to

“successfully penetrate every sector of the UK’s economy”;


“Chinese money was readily accepted by HMG with few questions asked”;

and that external experts concluded

“very strongly that HMG did not have any strategy on China, let alone an effective one”.

The lack of action to identify and protect UK assets from a known threat was, the report argues,

“a serious failure, and one that the UK may feel the consequences of for years to come”.

Furthermore, the committee found there is “no evidence” that government departments tasked with countering Chinese interference have the necessary resources, expertise or knowledge. The level of resource dedicated to tackling the threat “has been completely inadequate”, and

“The slow speed at which strategies, and policies, are developed and implemented also leaves a lot to be desired”.

The committee added:

“Without swift and decisive action”

a “nightmare scenario” could emerge whereby China represented not just a

“commercial challenge, but … an existential threat to liberal democratic systems”.

That is not hawks speaking, of the kind referred to in the preceding speech, but a serious committee of Parliament.

In their response published last month, His Majesty’s Government pointed out that the committee’s inquiry related to evidence primarily presented in 2020 and that the Government’s integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy in 2021 and its refresh in 2023, which was referred to by the noble Earl, strengthened the United Kingdom’s position on China, recognising what it calls the

“epoch-defining and systemic challenge”

posed by China, and making it clear that

“national security will always come first”.

That was echoed by the noble Earl.

I welcome that progress and look forward to hearing the Minister set out what that means in terms of practical action, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to. But even since 2021 there have continued to be inconsistencies, mixed messaging and inadequate government responses to the threats posed by the CCP regime.

What is not in contention—here, I again echo what the noble Earl said—is that it is perfectly possible to admire the people, culture and civilisation of China while opposing the brutal dictatorship that rules China, currently led by Xi Jinping. But that is not the position of the Government, who pursue a Pushmi-Pullyu approach worthy of Dr Doolittle and believe you can make more trade deals with a regime accused of genocide against Muslim Uighurs.

That approach was in evidence again this week in reports about the reconvening of JETCO. Would it not be better to reduce our dependency on a regime with which we have a trade deficit of around £40 billion —a point the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, often makes—increase own resilience, especially in manufacturing, and enhance trade with countries that broadly share our values and beliefs? Here I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, said about the importance of the Commonwealth. But instead, we ignore the threats and seek deals with a regime which despises and threatens the world.

This is a regime that is intensifying atrocities in Tibet and that dismantled Hong Kong’s promised freedoms and autonomy, in total breach of the international treaty, the Sino-British joint declaration. It is a regime that stands accused of severe persecution of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and other minorities, of committing the crime against humanity of forced organ harvesting and of unleashing a crackdown on civil society, lawyers, bloggers, journalists and dissidents across China. It is a regime that has escalated threats to Taiwan. It is a regime that, at least twice in the past year, has been accused of infiltrating this very Parliament with influencers and alleged spies. It is a regime that the head of MI5 has on multiple occasions—as recently as this week describing the threats to British businesses, as my noble and gallant friend said—warned poses a significant threat. The writing has been on the Great Wall of China for years.

We recall that in 2020, the Government were poised to invite the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei into our 5G network. The noble Earl made a virtue of the decision not to proceed with that, but it was only as a result of amendments here and a serious rebellion in the House of Commons, combined with pressure from the United States, Australia and other allies who saw the dangers, that the Government changed their mind. That failure to act in concert with our allies cost this country significant sums of money and damaged its reputation.

The same thing happened with Hikvision’s surveillance cameras. Since January 2020 I have raised this issue on more than 25 occasions in your Lordships’ House, describing them as tools of genocide because of the way surveillance cameras have been used in Xinjiang to facilitate the atrocity crimes perpetrated against the Uighurs. As I said in a previous debate,

“A negligent procurement policy means that we will ultimately end up stripping them out, as we did with Huawei, at huge public cost”.—[Official Report, 25/5/22; col. 878.]

That is exactly what we have ended up doing.

Sometimes the Government have done the right thing but very late in the day. The decision to force a Chinese-owned tech firm to sell at least 86% of its stake in Britain’s largest microchip company, Newport Wafer Fab, because of fears about the national security risks involved was the right one, but why did we allow China to invest in such a critical sector in the first place? The mixed messaging continues. I applaud His Majesty’s Government for joining the US and Australia in forming AUKUS, our security alliance, but while this is the right response, there is plenty that is not.

During our International Relations and Defence Committee inquiry into China, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, using a word that my noble and gallant friend used himself in his remarks today, described our approach to China as “cakeism”—wanting to be more secure while simultaneously wanting more trade deals. An example of that is the failure to sanction Hong Kong officials responsible for their involvement in some of the events described by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. In January, two submissions on sanctions were made to the FCDO by Stand with Hong Kong via the All-Party Group on Hong Kong and by Hong Kong Watch. In February, FCDO officials said the submissions would be reviewed and a decision made by April. There has still been no response. Perhaps the Minister, particularly in the light of the growing number of political prisoners—there are more than 1,000 in prison in Hong Kong—will speak to his right honourable friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP to establish when a response will be forthcoming.

I have some other questions for the Minister—I will try to be brief. Why was the governor of Xinjiang invited to meet Foreign Office officials earlier this year, and why did it have to take public pressure for the visit to be cancelled? Why have not one but two Hong Kong Ministers—the Secretary for Financial Services, Christopher Hui, and then the Financial Secretary, Paul Chan—been in London this year? When the CCP has completely dismantled Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy and undermined its rule of law, is that appropriate?

Why was the first ministerial visit in five years by a British Minister to Hong Kong made by the Trade Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, with no apparent agenda to discuss human rights, during the continued imprisonment of British citizen Jimmy Lai—whose son Sebastien has been here in Parliament again this week? When will the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary follow the example of the US Administration, the European Union Parliament and the United Nations special rapporteurs and call for the immediate release of Mr Lai? Why did the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, speak at the Chinese embassy’s celebration of the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China earlier this month? What kind of message does that send to a regime that the Government themselves say poses an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge”?

The Prime Minister gave a personal pledge to shut down the CCP’s Confucius Institutes in our universities and schools. Why do we not work with the Government of Taiwan for language and culture studies rather than with the CCP? In January this year the Times, following research by Civitas, highlighted the fact that more than 40 of our universities have links with institutions that are tools of the Chinese state, including institutions complicit with, facilitating or directly involved with the Uighur genocide, nuclear development, military research, espionage and hacking. What are we thinking of? What steps are being taken to help British universities reduce dependency and diversify their funding sources?

What are the Government doing to address concerns highlighted by Charles Parton, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and others that Chinese-made electric cars—or even simply Chinese-made cellular modules that are components in non-Chinese-made cars and other electronic equipment—could be used to spy on us? What assessment has been made of those security risks?

Why, following the physical assault by the Chinese consul-general in Manchester and several Chinese diplomats on Hong Kongers peacefully protesting outside the consulate, with the consul-general claiming it was his “duty”, did the Government not immediately expel those diplomats and declare them persona non grata?

It was instructive that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, a former British diplomat who until recently was HSBC’s head of public affairs, described Britain as “weak” for siding with the United States against China. But we have been too weak in failing to stand up to the CCP. If UK businesses are in doubt about the nature of the regime with which they are dealing, they should meet Peter Humphrey, the British businessman and journalist who at a meeting here recently described his two and a half years in Chinese jails, some of the time with 12 men in a cell.

In response to this damning indictment from the Intelligence and Security Committee, we need to completely review our procurement policies, our university sector, our critical infrastructure and our diplomatic messaging. We need to ensure that we have the resources to counter the threat from the CCP, and that we are consistent and robust in defending our values of human rights, our national interests and our national security.

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referred in his trenchant speech to the increasingly belligerent comments coming from President Xi. He is absolutely right so to do, given the continuing militarisation and building out of the South China and East China Seas, which many of us have viewed for many years with increased concern, not least because of the uncertainty it is causing in the region for countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and of course Japan. It is also worth saying that there have been 180 incidents of coercive and risky operational behaviour against US planes over the past two years, and a further 120 incidents by the PLA on US allies. All this shows that the Chinese are probing constantly the defences of our allies.

It is no secret that Mr Putin, in Beijing recently to mark the 10th anniversary of the belt and road initiative, spoke of “common threats”, so seeking to bind China closer to Russia and tilting the relationship with China in terms of the increased trade and dependency on China that Russia will now have. We can all assume that among the things they did not discuss in front of the camera were the current situation in Ukraine and, obviously, that in Israel and Palestine.

I want to divide what I am going to say into several sections and talk quickly, trying not to repeat what those who have spoken already have said much more eloquently than I ever could. To touch briefly on the human rights aspect of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for whom I have huge respect, having worked with him on these matters in the past, referred to the situation in the DPRK. I do not wish to detain your Lordships on this because I am seeking to obtain a debate on the DPRK in the near future, but on Monday 9 October China repatriated to the DPRK 600-plus North Korean refugees, many of whom were Christians. We can only assume that of those 600-plus North Koreans, the lucky ones are languishing in a concentration camp and the less fortunate ones will no longer be with us. We should absolutely call out China on every aspect of its human rights policy, be it in the DPRK, with the Uighurs in Xinjiang or indeed in Tibet—matters it refers to as internal matters and on which it is quick to close down any opposition.

The Minister, my noble friend Lord Howe, talked rightly about the situation in Hong Kong. Before this debate I read the Foreign Office’s latest six-month report, which makes for sober reading. While undoubtedly the economy of Hong Kong is thriving, the steady erosion of free speech and liberties, and the application of the national security law in Hong Kong, are causes of real concern.

We find ourselves in a position far from that we were in when I was the Minister for Asia. We were engaged on good relations with China; it was designated as a win-win situation, although some of us may have had our private doubts about it. To put it into context, that was when we were seeking finance for our critical infrastructure—for Hinkley, Sizewell and Bradwell—and when Huawei was still part of the deal. It coincided with a prime ministerial visit led by David Cameron in 2013, on which I was one of those who went to China with a large business delegation, and in return an incoming state visit from President Xi in 2015.

The one thing the United Kingdom cannot be accused of is consistency in its approach to relations with China. I have some sympathy with the Chinese, who take a very long-term view about everything in the same way that, increasingly, we take an incredibly short-term view. They must be left wondering why only a few years ago we were trying to attract them into almost every aspect of investment and infrastructure, but then closed the door on them.

The peril of following my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford is that he always mentions the Commonwealth, which is what I always want to mention too. He was right to do so. I declare my registered interest as the deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. There is much talk about China’s pursuit of rare earth minerals all around the Commonwealth, but I have to say that China has a very large and growing economy. It seems to me that it is as entitled to secure the tools to grow that economy as anyone else is.

If there is any fault for the fact that China is in places which were previously in the sphere of British influence, it lies at our door. It is because of our continuing neglect of the Commonwealth family in those parts of the world, which looked to—and still look to—the UK for friendship, leadership and co-operation. We have created a void; nature abhors a void and the Chinese have filled it—for example, in the Pacific islands, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Next year, we have the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa. I hope that will concentrate minds on what is going on in that part of the world. However, it is not just there but all across Africa and the Caribbean. I regret that we cut our overseas aid budget, which has affected some of these places so adversely and left the door open for others—very often the Chinese—to come in. We cannot blame the Chinese for doing what we want to do, just because they are prepared to put the money on the table and we are not.

Let me give noble Lords two examples. For example, Sri Lanka is in the newspapers today. There is much criticism of people attending a seminar to attract investment in the Gulf for the Port City Colombo because the funding is Chinese. The whole idea of that webinar was surely to show the rest of the world the opportunities to dilute the Chinese funding. You cannot criticise on one hand and practise inactivity on the other. The first Commonwealth visit destination of our new king is Kenya, which is coming up shortly. Where has the new President Ruto just been? Trying to extend a loan in China. Kenya is a Commonwealth country, and we are so outraged that he has gone to China to extend a loan, but what are we doing about it? Again, you cannot criticise others for stepping into the breach.

Trade with China is growing. In 2017, Chinese investment in the United Kingdom was about £2.46 billion, but by 2021 that had increased to £5.1 billion—effectively doubling. Our relationship with China, whether we like it or not, is important. It seems that the Government’s approach, although I have found fault with the lack of consistency, is broadly right: to protect, to align and engage. However, as well as being alert to the threats posed by China—they are very real—we must also be alert to the opportunities, while remaining predictable and consistent in our relations with the Chinese.

My Lords, I endorse what others have said about human rights abuses in China, so I will not indulge in any repetition. I will use my contribution to flag up how Mandarin teaching in the UK fits in with His Majesty’s Government’s long-term strategic objectives and challenges. I spoke about this in the debate a year ago referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and there are some relevant new facts and figures to report since then, following the latest independent evaluation of the Mandarin Excellence Programme, including the role and significance of the Confucius Institutes, which themselves pose one of the strategic challenges to be resolved. I declare my interests as a current member of the International Relations and Defence Committee and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.

In the integrated review refresh, the Government announced that they would double their funding for their China capabilities programme in 2024-25, and that this would include training for government staff on economic and military policy and Mandarin language skills. The Government are to be congratulated on acknowledging and targeting the importance of language skills as one of the decisive factors in both foreign and economic policy. Whenever I draw attention to the UK’s shortcomings in the teaching and learning of foreign languages within the education system, I always try to make sure that I draw attention to the fact that the Armed Forces and the diplomatic and security services are exemplary in their understanding of, investment in and rewarding of language skills. What level is the additional funding indicated in the refresh policy now to be set at? How many government officials are expected to receive the language training, and up to what standard?

This is obviously not the right debate to discuss the detail of the Mandarin Excellence Programme’s educational value, pedagogical approach or results. Rather, the main issue I want to highlight is whether there is any legitimate concern that the programme and its delivery in the classroom is at all compromised by undue influence from the Chinese Government in relation to content or personnel. His Majesty’s Government have made a significant investment in the MEP, which funds the teaching and learning of Mandarin in state schools, aiming to provide an increased

“pipeline of fluent Mandarin speakers to meet the future business and economic needs of the country”.

By all measures, the programme continues to be successful and to exceed its own targets. By 2023, 11,000 students from 79 schools were enrolled in it, and this is expected to increase to 13,000 by 2024. The latest independent assessment shows that it is an effective model for developing young Chinese scholars with no prior or family link to China or Chinese.

The MEP is delivered by the University of London’s Institute of Education, in partnership with the British Council. The DfE’s contract for the programme is with UCL, not the Confucius Institutes. No one sent by China works in the MEP office. Every school participating in the MEP is responsible for engaging its own teachers locally, in exactly the same way as they employ teachers of Spanish, French or anything else. The teachers are not provided by the Confucius Institutes; they supply guest teaching assistants from China but these are supplementary to the core classroom teachers. Schools do not have any contractual agreements with any Chinese organisation; their agreements are with UCL and governed by English law, covering adherence to data protection and freedom of information.

However, for some time, high-profile concern has been expressed about the role of the Confucius Institutes and their presence within the UK education system. The China Research Group of MPs described them as an arm of the Chinese state and inaccurately claimed that the government funding of the MEP is channelled through the Confucius Institutes—as I said, this is not the case. Others have accused them of engaging in lobbying more than simply education, and there has been talk of the Government phasing out Confucius Institutes altogether and replacing them with Taiwanese alternatives. Here I respectfully disagree with my noble friend Lord Alton, because these alternatives would be educationally inadequate and would kill off the educational excellence of the MEP—although those details are also clearly not for this particular debate.

I have no doubt that it is a perfectly fair assessment to claim that the Confucius Institutes are effectively an arm of the Chinese state, but I would caution the Government against throwing the baby out with the bathwater by responding to pressure to sever all connection between them and the MEP. While the Confucius Institutes’ involvement with the teaching of Mandarin in our universities may well be giving rise to some legitimate concerns about undue influence in content, structure or personnel, the evidence shows that it is wide of the mark to suggest that this is the case with the schools programme. I urge the Minister to acknowledge this very clear and important distinction. As I have said already, there is clear blue water, legally, contractually and organisationally, between the institutes and the schools programme. The concerns that have been expressed are not shared by students, parents, teachers or head teachers. At the same time, it must of course be conceded that closer monitoring of the situation in some universities is clearly advisable, but any action against the Confucius Institutes should be proportionate and properly targeted.

I realise that the Mandarin Excellence Programme, which comes under the DfE, is one of the few things that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is not responsible for as Minister. However, I should be grateful if he would contact and liaise with colleagues in that department and perhaps write to me later to confirm that the MEP’s funding will be extended into 2025 and beyond. I hope that he will be happy to nail this down with the DfE, because it is as much in the long-term strategic interests of our foreign and economic policies as it is of education policy that we should maintain this pipeline of non-Chinese Mandarin speakers. We know from recent ground-breaking research by Cambridge University that, if more money were invested in the teaching of Mandarin, the UK could increase the value of its exports by £5 billion a year. Building and developing a larger cohort of Mandarin speakers is important not just for trade but for the all-important intercultural understanding that underpins so many geopolitical challenges, including human rights, climate change, counterterrorism and AI.

I look forward to the Minister’s comments on the issues I have raised.

My Lords, everything that we thought we knew about China turned out to be wrong. Between 1979 and 2012, there was a steady, fitful but none the less one-directional move towards liberalisation. A lot of us—and I certainly do not exclude myself from this—made the mistake of assuming that there was a link between economic liberalisation and political pluralism. It seemed to stand to reason that, if people became accustomed to choosing a television station, a car, an internet provider or a phone network, they would start to demand choice in who was their mayor or regional governor. For a long time, with some setbacks and patchiness, that seemed to be the case—but we were wrong. As Kaiser Kuo, the head of the international part of Baidu, said, “Just because you don’t know the truth about what happened in Tiananmen Square doesn’t mean you can’t build a mobile phone app”. I think that we all tended to overlook that.

We have certainly been taken off guard by the suddenness of the changes since Xi Jinping took office. Before 2012, there had been the beginning of a burgeoning independent blogosphere in China. It was permissible to make some criticisms of what was going on. Okay, you could not come out and say that the entire party system should be overturned, but you were allowed to make complaints about prison conditions and even ask for a wider choice of candidates in some of the local elections. All of that stopped, almost overnight.

First, a prominent blogger was brought out on television and made a Stalin-type self-recriminating tearful confession. Then, one by one, others began to be arrested. Then the lawyers who defended them began to be arrested. Then the lawyers who defended the lawyers began to be arrested. After that, people got the message. In 2013, the axe fell; the Supreme People’s Court declared that, if you spread an unhelpful rumour—that is how it put it—online and it got more than 500 shares or more than 5,000 views, you might be liable to three years in a labour camp.

I think all of this passed us by in this country. I cringe when I look at what I was writing as recently as five years ago, about how these arguments were still going on in Beijing and there were still more moderate figures from the Hu Jintao or Jiang Zemin eras. We absolutely missed the extent to which an autocratic regime was being built—a revanchist, aggressive and centralised dictatorship. It happened almost overnight. I sometimes think of that classic “The Simpsons” episode where the Soviet Union comes back and the whole end of the Cold War is shown to have been a massive maskirovka. The Berlin Wall comes charging out of the ground and Lenin rises, zombie-like, from his tomb. Imagine something like that but with modern technology.

The Chinese have built a terrifying panopticon state in which some of the world’s largest and notionally private companies—Weibo, Tencent and Alibaba—act both as proselytisers for the regime, employing people whose job is to propagandise, and, rather more scarily, as spies monitoring online activity. We are seeing a terrifying use of facial recognition and geolocation technology to build the kind of dictatorship that would recently have been unimaginable.

This goes furthest in Xinjiang. Those roadblocks you see on the news are to check that some clever young member of your family has not taken the mandatory spyware off your mobile phone. That spyware looks for antisocial behaviour, covering everything from growing a beard to talking to foreigners, covering your hair, observing the fast or trying to access the wrong websites. If you do too much of that, an algorithm will sentence you to re-education with almost no human oversight whatever. If it can do that in Xinjiang, why not all over China? Why not export the technology to any friendly dictatorship in its sphere of influence? The world is becoming an altogether greyer, scarier and colder place.

I will not go over it again because it was so well described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, but at the same time we saw China, which until then had observed the letter if not the spirit of our accords on Hong Kong, suddenly stop bothering to pretend. With the security law, we saw the end of any serious dream of one country, two systems surviving. We also saw China beginning to press territorial claims on and cause disputes with not only almost every contiguous country—noble Lords will remember the clashes on the Indian border during lockdown, when Indian soldiers were shot—with the significant exception of Russia, but some remarkably distant countries. China maintains territorial claims against the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei, not countries that would seem from a map to be especially nearby.

The notion of playing it long and peaceful global co-operation, which had been the defining notion since Deng Xiaoping, suddenly ceased. We saw that very clearly two years ago when China celebrated the centenary of the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party. We saw it in the iconography and the language. As noble Lords will recall, Xi Jinping spoke of foreigners dashing themselves to pieces against the mighty wall made up of 1.4 billion Chinese people. Marxism may have been ditched and the country may have adopted market mechanisms, but it remains hideously Leninist. There is still an absolute emphasis on the supremacy of the party and a disdain for any mechanisms of representative government.

When Xi Jinping spoke at the centenary, he donned a Mao suit. As in George Orwell’s 1984, proletarian overalls are the uniform of the party elite. Tempting though it is to push the Orwellian analysis, I am not sure it is quite right. For one thing, Orwell’s telescreens did not come close to the terrifying powers now being wielded by some of the spyware of Chinese tech companies. Actually, it is not so much Orwell as Huxley. China has begun to change the way in which people think. My late friend Roger Scruton got into terrible trouble, and was horribly misquoted in the New Statesman, when he said the Chinese Government were creating robots out of their own people. I recommend to your Lordships We Have Been Harmonised: Life in China’s Surveillance State by Kai Strittmatter, a China-based German correspondent. It talks about the way in which, when Chinese students are in foreign universities and do not need to worry about censors or paywalls, they still do not access websites that might be considered dangerous in China. Even when, in observed experiments, they were given links to what actually happened in Tiananmen, or to what are the claims of the Tibetans, or who is the Dalai Lama, or what is the argument with Taiwan, or any of the forbidden topics, they would not look at them because they had been conditioned to see it all as dangerous propaganda. That is why I say Huxley rather than Orwell; Huxley has a line to the effect that a population of slaves did not need to be coerced because they had been taught to love their servility.

So what can we do about it? I rather agree with the position set out by the Minister in his opening statement. There is not much point in engaging in economic sanctions of any kind. I generally think there is almost never any point in them because they hurt the wrong people; they prop up dictators and they hit poor people in your own country and in the other country. In this case, what we dislike economically about China, such as the theft of intellectual property, the insertion of bugs into things and reverse engineering, has all been happening now without any trade. That is not a question of economic sanctions; it is a question of invigilating the rules under the existing system. Our policy, as set out by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in his Lancaster House speech, which was the first one that I can think of—there may have been others, but I am not aware of them—devoted to a single subject, is the idea of being engaged regionally in CPTPP and AUKUS, of standing by our allies but continuing to engage with Beijing, seems to me, in a world where we are necessarily choosing among imperfect options and where our resources are not unlimited, about the most effective.

I will finish with a point raised by my noble friend Lord Swire, about something that would have been much bigger news were it not for the horrifying abominations we have seen in Israel: the summit that happened between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping on Tuesday. What we see there is the illiberal powers combining quite openly and flagrantly against us. It is a reminder of how limited our liberal democratic ideals turn out to be in their geographical reach. We like to imagine that our system of government is so obviously preferable to the alternatives because nobody would want to live in a state where you can be arrested for saying the wrong thing, or disappeared, or where rulers can make up the rules as they go along and ignore the law. We have tended to think that that would just spread because people preferred it—but in their response both to the Russia-Ukraine war and to Hamas, we see how many countries simply do not see things that way.

The number of countries prepared to impose sanctions on Russia, in defence of the rule of law and the international order, was tiny. It was the anglosphere, western Europe and a handful of advanced east Asian democracies. The line-up over the horrifying Hamas atrocities is very similar. For a lot of people, victimhood has been elevated as the supreme virtue and claiming to be an anti-colonial oppressed power of some kind is a moral get-out-of-jail card that allows you almost any kind of atrocity. It turns out that those who really believe in personal freedom, individualism, the elevation of the individual above the collective and the rule of law are remarkably few.

Perhaps those values were always a little contingent, counterintuitive as they are in a tribal species that evolved in hierarchical kin groups. It may be that, when we look back at that summit, we will see it as marking the end of a brief liberal era that rested, when the chips were down, on the readiness of western countries to pursue their policy goals with force of arms. It may be that we are coming to the end of a brief interglacial; that the planet is now tipping again on its axis; that the cold weather is returning; and that the glaciers are creeping back.

My Lords, one of the significant things missing from this debate is the usual contributions from former Foreign Office diplomats. I note that there is not a single ambassador or permanent under-secretary speaking in this debate, and I wonder whether that is because they, like many, are confused by the changes in British policy over recent years. As some of your Lordships will know, before I was here, I worked for David Cameron. He had a very different view as to the development of the world. I recall a discussion with him about overseas aid. He said, “We need to increase overseas aid because we need to make these countries worth living in, so that people don’t all want to leave”. Part of the consequence of reducing 0.7% has been the reflection in cuts in aid, as previous speakers have mentioned. Our belt and road initiative is a lot of belt and no road at the moment.

We also have to face the fact that the world is changing rapidly, and not in our favour. It is 100 years ago this month that the British Empire and dominions reached its peak; it never grew bigger than it was in October 1923. That was the key pinnacle of an already financially weakened British state, but that was when its overseas reach got to its highest. We had behind us the Amritsar massacre, we had before us the Bengal famine: both of them human rights abuses that we managed to make excuses for, frankly. However, we were an imperial power, and in many ways we behaved quite similarly to China and not so dissimilarly from the United States. If we look at the United States and its treatment of Cuba, do we say, “Well, it’s okay to treat Cuba this way, but China and the Spratly Islands? No, that’s not on at all”. What we are seeing in many ways is that China is behaving largely in exactly the same way that the British Empire behaved, and in the way the United States behaved with its Monroe Doctrine, intervening all over Latin America from Chile to Nicaragua.

I do not put that forward as an excuse. However, reading the statement that was made at the summit in China this week, which I read on China’s internet rather than ours, what they basically said was, “We want to do our own thing—we don’t share your values”. They did not pretend to share our values; that is the important thing to remember. They actually repudiated our values. The only thing we have left now is the threat of a good example, and maybe some selective moves to downgrade certain products, such as cotton from Xinjiang. What we cannot do is have a big cold war with China. It will not and cannot work—the international economy is far too integrated for that.

What we can do is give the countries near China as much diplomatic support as we can. I know from visiting Vietnam that it feels somewhat under pressure, but the ruling party—which, incidentally, is also communist—believes that it somehow has to find a modus vivendi because Vietnam is so small and China is so big. The vice-president of Vietnam, whom I met when I was last there, said, “We have to be realistic. If we have trouble with China, you’re not going to come to defend us. You’re not going to be able to send troops here and battle for Vietnam. Apart from that, it would be somewhat of an irony; we are still clearing up after the last time you came to this country”. The best thing we can do is to give some sort of diplomatic support and, where we can, support such protest as exists.

I was interested in this week’s New Statesman, which has an article on China and what it calls the struggle for Chinese history and the fact that there is still an underground movement there. It says:

“As long as there has been repression in China, there has been resistance”.

It goes on to quote the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ian Johnson, who argues that victory for the regime’s repressive attitude was not total. Indeed, a brave group of independent filmmakers and writers continues

“to preserve an alternative version of the country's history and to stubbornly resist the party’s efforts to rewrite the past”.

As far as we can give any quiet support to that, we jolly well ought to. But we must realise that the limits of what we can do are exactly that: limits. We are a small country. When I was in the European Parliament, people in Europe used to be really surprised when I went to meetings. I said to them that Europe is a very small place and that we have fewer languages than India. People would ask me, “Fewer languages than India? They all speak English”; to which I replied, “That shows how much you know about India, for a start”. China and India are virtually the same size. Part of our strategy for China ought to be to give as much support as we can to India—which, frankly, also has some democratic problems at the moment.

The recent review has some very good home truths in it, although they are a bit buried. For instance, paragraph 13 says:

“Today’s international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’”.

That is absolutely right. It later says that we will need to work with countries such as China, among others, “to protect our shared”—note the word “shared”—

“higher interest in an open and stable international order, accepting that we may not share all of the same values and national interests”.

That is absolutely true. Someone in the Foreign Office wrote that; I presume they got it through the Ministers, otherwise it would not have appeared there. It is absolutely true that we have to be prepared to be flexible.

The review says on page 13 that some of the

“actions pose a threat to our people, prosperity and security”,


“we will engage directly with China bilaterally and in international fora so that we leave room for open, constructive and predictable relations”.

That is part of the way diplomacy works. We close our eyes to the fact that, at this time in Moscow, there are still talks going on between Russian and British diplomats about such things as nuclear proliferation in Iran. Behind-the-scenes contacts have not stopped; they should not stop; and there is absolutely nothing to be gained by us from them stopping. We have to encourage as much as we can.

The review states on page 31 that, as part of the 2023 review,

“the Government will also increase investment in the capabilities that will help us understand and adapt to China”.

I hope that all our Ministers carefully read—I am sure they do—the documents that come out of their own Foreign Office, because they contain a lot of grains of truth. There is far too much belligerence in the way we pursue our public discourse on relations, not only with China but with many other places in the world. We need to remember that the biggest secret of democracy is discretion, confidentiality and moving forward.

I finish with a story that is absolutely true. When I joined the Foreign Office in the early 1960s, there were still diplomats around from the 1930s. I remember one of them saying to me, “Richard, be very careful how you treat your enemies, because one day you might wake up and find that they’re your friends”. The example he gave was Ivan Maisky, who we refused to recognise as an ambassador until the day after Germany invaded Russia, at which point he was invited to the palace to be acknowledged as the ambassador, to be followed by dinner with the Foreign Secretary, who up till then had refused to meet him. Remember, you need to keep the channels open, and that one day your enemies might be, if not your friends, at least people you need a civilised conversation with, so just be careful.

My Lords, on a number of occasions when opening this debate, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to “epoch-defining”. I believe that an epoch is the shortest geological period, but it refers to a few million years. I find myself agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that we do not have to go far back to China’s referring, as it still does, to the century of humiliation between the mid-19th and 20th centuries, the source of which was a repudiation of British approaches of colonisation, exploiting minerals and goods, unequal treaties and territorial exploitation. We must be self-aware that what we are calling for now is in many respects in direct opposition and contrast to how we were perceived more than 100 years ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Swire, is absolutely right: the interesting backdrop to the debate today is the discussions between President Putin and President Xi in Beijing and the joint statements that were made as part of what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to as the friendship without limits. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is right: sometimes our opponents may become friends, but we often maintain friends with limits on that friendship. That is the context of the debate today, and I am grateful, as we all are, for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I must say that with his growing list of sanctions against him, I am getting slightly envious; I think I am doing something not right enough. He is putting us to shame, but that is testimony to his persistence and work in highlighting human rights abuses, and it is to his credit.

The authoritarianism and assertiveness that the noble Earl, who is not in his place, mentioned at the start of this debate is that the PRC is growing both internally and externally. Only yesterday, I met a delegation of senators from the Philippines who told me of China’s increasing harassment of shipping, which is of growing concern to them.

The recent reforms to liberalise the Philippine economy are now being seen through a national security lens in critical sectors. I will return to this later regarding consequences within the UK, but it is worth repeating that concerns raised on these Benches are not on the people-to-people relations with the Chinese people—whether students or workers in education or culture, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, indicated. However, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, was right to highlight the International Relations and Defence Committee’s report, which signalled the concern that there was a strategic void in the approach of the Government. While the Minister indicated the three pillars as the Government’s response, I find myself in agreement with the noble and gallant Lord that this is not a sufficient response to the committee’s recommendations.

We know that China’s approach is long term and strategic. After my party’s conference—at which I had meetings with those from Hong Kong as well as Liberal Democrats who have left China because of the concern for human rights abuses—I travelled to Malawi, Ethiopia and, last week, for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I was in Hanoi and the Vietnam/Laos border area. It was fascinating to be in Lilongwe, at a Parliament built by China on a road that is being constructed by China from the airport; then to be on a flight from Lilongwe to Addis, which goes through Lubumbashi in the DRC and which filled up with Chinese workers because Chinese companies own 15 of the 19 industrial copper cobalt lining concessions in the DRC; and then to travel to Hanoi from Dubai, seeing the myriad flights across the whole country.

I return to the very points that the noble Lord, Lord Swire, made regarding why we should not complain about this; we should observe it, but also act ourselves. It was fascinating to be in Vietnam on the WFD programme because of the desire of the Vietnamese to expand and deepen their relations with the UK on a strategic basis, in everything from education and research partnerships to sharing some of our experience so that they can diversify their relationship with China.

Regarding Africa, however, the noble Lord, Lord Swire, is right. It is very welcome that His Majesty will be visiting Kenya for his first non-European state visit. However, the last time that a British Prime Minister made a bilateral visit to an African country was when Theresa May went six years ago. She promised then that the UK would be the biggest G7 investor in Africa by this year—a commitment that was dumped within six months. It is no surprise, therefore, that when it comes to what could well be more predictable partnerships, they will look to China as being a more reliable partner.

We know, though, that China’s trading relations in African countries are not unconditional. Its use of strategic debt is not necessarily an approach that we would take in the 21st century. Therefore, a valid opportunity still exists for the UK to be a reliable and predictable partner. However, as has been said in the debate, we have had six Foreign Secretaries in eight years, often with differing views on our relationship with China. We did not have a development strategy for six years and now we will have two in two years. That uncertainty and lack of predictability is a concern.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Swire, mentioned David Cameron; I did not want to. Part of my concern, interestingly, was previously raised by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which criticised his chairing of the UK-China investment fund. That is on the record. My issue regarding that project, which David Cameron was paid an undisclosed sum of money to promote, is that it is now owned by China, since the previous owners defaulted on their debt to China. Therefore, the UK not responding to the use of strategic debt in that region is of significance, and a former British Prime Minister should be more self-aware in that regard and not have his bank balance as his top priority.

We have heard about not just neighbouring countries, but Taiwan. The UK must always stand on the side of democracy, human rights, international law and multilateralism—and I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Howe, back to his place. Our relationship with Taiwan is a very good illustration of how we can both meet our need to support democracy in the region and develop more strategic, economic and diverse trading relations.

At the same time, we need to reduce our economic dependency. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I have repeatedly raised our concerns that our level of deficit in trade in goods with China is unsustainable. As the noble Earl correctly indicated, total European trade with China is €450 billion, but the UK trade deficit in goods—just the deficit—is 10%, so over £40 billion. This affects how we communicate with our consumers, who find the importation and purchase of Chinese goods easier through Amazon and online purchases, but find it increasingly hard to buy from our European neighbours. This means that, if there are coercive tactics, or decisions that are arbitrary or made by Beijing, they will affect the British economy disproportionately. When it comes to the resilience of these goods being shipped through the region, we are additionally vulnerable.

I agreed with the earlier comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. If there is a Labour Government after the next general election, whether alone or in coalition, in whatever circumstances, we will support their requirement for a strategic audit of the UK’s relationship with China. This should lead to a comprehensive UK strategy based on our values of respect for human rights and the rule of law, aligned with our European partners, but clearly identifying the parameters of engagement that should exist to tackle issues such as biodiversity, health, nuclear non-proliferation and more sensitive areas such as AI regulation.

In returning to the UK economy, I hope that any strategic audit includes a full industrial strategy enabling UK companies to be more aware of what this trading relationship is, to be competitive and more self-reliant with additional government support. This means that we will review the preferential UK market access agreements with China. The noble Lord, Lord Swire, referenced President Xi’s visit, and many of us were in the Royal Gallery to listen to his speech. The Government’s accompanying statement signalled the 17 preferential market access agreements across all ranges of the service sector and the economy. Not one of those, including the continuing ability for Chinese state pension companies to have open access to UK pension funds, and vice versa, has been reviewed to assess whether it is fit for purpose. If, as the noble Earl indicated, China now poses an “epoch-defining” challenge, how on earth could we not review the preferential market access that it has been given as part of the strategic challenge that we face?

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to Newport Wafer Fab. In welcoming that decision, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, what other parts of the economy would be reviewed on a similar basis to semiconductors at Newport Wafer. He rejected even the concept of a review across the whole sector. That is not sustainable. Similarly, we need to review research co-operation and intellectual property vulnerabilities in our economy. Countries such as Vietnam and others are open to entering into more transparent agreements here.

I will close on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Swire, ended with, because I agree with him. Every Member of this House, particularly the Minister, knows my view about the unlawful reduction of official development assistance. In my view, it is not just the morally wrong thing to do, which is the primary reason I am opposed to it, but a strategic error of enormous importance. This is because of not only the impact that it has had in creating a vacuum which China fills, but the signals it sends, which Moscow and China are using strategically in an alternative narrative. I am afraid that we will find, to our peril in the long term, that although money may well have been “saved” by the cut to overseas development assistance, we will see less return for our strategic value in the future. Whatever happens, we need to be more dependable when it comes to delivering on what we said we would deliver. We need to be a reliable and predictable partner. In many ways, as we have heard in the very excellent contributions so far, we need to do what China is doing, just better and in our way.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow everyone in this debate. I particularly thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his measured, calm and thoughtful introduction, which will, no doubt, be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in his usual way when he concludes. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, summed up, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, mentioned, in many ways the Government’s aspirations are not in dispute. However, many of us feel that they are simply that—a list of aspirations—and that some of the concrete policy objectives, the necessary policy dimensions, are simply not there. Following on from the excellent contribution by my noble friend Lord Collins, I will lay out our approach for the House.

There can be no doubt in listening to all the contributions made that we face many dilemmas in dealing with the challenges that China poses for us—for our foreign policy, our defence policy, our alliances and how we deal with them. Nobody would disagree with that. But there should never be any dilemma in the actions of our Government around our policies being driven by our values. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is quite right about China and others repudiating our values. They may well do so and can if they want to, but that should not deter us from standing up for those values. We shall not be cowed. It is important for countries such as China to understand and realise that they can repudiate if they want, but we will not back off from our belief in democracy, freedom and human rights. That will be the driver for us. They need to know that, and so do others who come with them.

We must also take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach to China, standing firm in the defence of national security, international law and human rights, while of course engaging in areas such as climate change, trade and global health. We will compete where we need to, co-operate where we can and challenge where we must.

Noble Lords mentioned the trade that we have with China and the fact that there are over 140,000 Chinese students in the UK. China is of course crucial in addressing many of the global issues that we face and is deeply integrated in the world economy. Alongside this, as many noble Lords have pointed out, we have seen many concerning domestic and international issues highlighted recently, in many reports referenced today. Just in June, at a recent NATO summit, there was strong reference to the specific threat posed by China, saying that it challenges

“our interests, security, and values”.

I am therefore pleased to see the Government’s very welcome development of the AUKUS project. I think the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that the new aircraft carrier-led mission would go out in 2025. The noble Lord, Lord Hannan, mentioned the importance of the UK joining the CPTPP and being the first non-original signatory to it. All that is really important and needs to be taken forward.

However, the director-general of MI5, Ken McCallum, in a joint comment with the FBI, warned of the particular challenge of China in technology, AI, advanced research and product development. That issue was highlighted in a briefing sent to me by the coalition on secure technology, which warned of the emerging threat from Chinese cellular modules, which can, for example, remotely interfere with devices—the sort of technological interference that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has mentioned time and again to your Lordships. China is dominant in this area.

It is worth going through some of the recent events that have taken place. These are not vague things but specific things that have happened. We allegedly now have Chinese spies in Westminster. We learn of so-called Chinese police stations and Confucius Institutes operating across our universities. Some of our parliamentarians, such as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Kennedy—there may be others but those are the two who come to mind—have been sanctioned for speaking up and speaking out. That is not a value we should compromise on. All of us in this place hold freedom of speech dear and we will not be cowed into not saying what we believe to be the case simply by that threat. I have been sanctioned by Russia; that will not stop me speaking out about Russia, nor should it stop anyone speaking out on any of these issues.

A protester was attacked outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester because they were protesting, and six diplomats were withdrawn by China before they could be questioned by our police. Huawei has been banned from the 5G network because of security concerns. We read that surveillance cameras have been removed by the Government from sensitive sites because of concerns about security. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, might want to update us on that.

Many noble Lords mentioned Hong Kong. If noble Lords have not read it, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, gave a brilliant speech a couple of months ago on the work he did and the betrayal of the treaty with respect to Hong Kong. He also wrote a brilliant article in the New Statesman, which we all should read, in which he talks about the questions that the Government should demand of China. How can we do more to support Hong Kong? What do we do? Do we wash our hands and say that nothing can be done, or do we at the very least say, in the strongest possible terms, that we object to what is happening with respect to Hong Kong?

What of Taiwan? We have no formal diplomatic relationships with Taiwan, but what is our approach? What are we saying? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, whose speech was phenomenally good, will know better than anybody about this. What are the implications for us with respect to Taiwan and the South China Sea? Are we going to wait for a crisis to occur, for something to happen so that Parliament has to be recalled and emergency statements have to be made? What are we doing to try to ensure that, as far as we can, we work with others to protect Taiwan and its freedoms?

What about the Uighurs? We should never be frightened of calling out those sorts of outrages. Why should Parliament be frightened of standing up and saying that we will not accept cultures being attacked simply because of their religion or ethnicity? We will not stand for that. The Government have to be stronger in standing up to these things. It raises a number of questions for the Minister.

We saw that the Foreign Secretary was in Beijing, as we all know. We are told that he raised these matters. What did he raise? How? What was said? We need more from our Government—to report back to Parliament and tell us what actually was said. What was actually done? I agree with the engagement with China, but it cannot just be a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It must be stronger than that. Can the Minister outline for us what demands were made of China with respect to the Uighurs, to Hong Kong, and to the South China Sea? What demands were made with respect to the concerns we have about the intelligence problems we have faced, and which I have outlined, within our own country? That is not to take away diplomatic relations, but we deserve to know what was actually said and what demands were made of China.

I tell noble Lords—I think that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, mentioned this; I apologise if he did not, but others mentioned it as well—that you cannot actually bring about change in the actions of countries such as China by simply giving in to what they want. You have to stand up to them, in a way which understands where they are coming from, but they have to understand where we are coming from as well. They have to understand what we believe, and what is in our own interests. They will tell us what is in their own interests, and they act accordingly. That is the real geopolitics of global politics. But make no mistake, with our allies—of course, acting on our own is not sufficient—through NATO, Five Eyes and the other alliances that we have, we must stand and say, “This is what is in our interests, and as much as you are pursuing yours, we will pursue ours”. By doing that, you actually lead and bring about solutions and changes.

It is important that the Minister, in his customary fashion, responds to some of these questions about how we put some meat on the bones of the foreign policy, and get consistency in our approach towards China, how we avoid the reports of the Intelligence and Security Committee and others telling us that the Government’s position is weak and confused. Those are serious reports coming forward, and they demand a serious response from the Government, which brings forward a much more coherent, cross-government approach to China, operating with our allies, so that they know where they stand and we know where we stand.

My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords for their contributions. As ever, it has been a fascinating insight, with valuable and experienced contributions. Yes, there are many challenges posed to His Majesty’s Government. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howe for introducing this debate, initiated by the Government, reflecting on the commitment, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, acknowledged, that the Leader of the House of Lords—my noble friend Lord True—gave.

I will begin by saying right at the outset that the Government share the concerns about many of the challenges posed by China under the Chinese Communist Party. My remarks today will probably reflect some of the sentiments and specifics raised. I listened very carefully, as I always do, to the contributions of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, which showed a deep insight and really threw down a challenge to the Government. While I may not satisfy all his questions, I hope during my contribution I will be able to at least give some granular detail on some of the steps the Government have been taking.

There was a range of contributions, and I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Collins, would acknowledge that the challenge in any relationship is immense, but the challenge in our relationship with China is complex. They both—indeed, most noble Lords, if not all—acknowledged that China is an important partner on the world stage, and we cannot ignore what China does and says and its influence around the world, which I will come on to.

Equally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, who said that we must stand up and that we shall not concede or give way. At one point I felt that he was going into the famous football chant “We shall not be moved”, but he did not quite go into the depth of that particular chant. I agree with him, and I am sure that, as all noble Lords have indicated, when we look at China, we look at the complexity. The UK is taking on the systematic challenge of that relationship. That of course means protecting our national security, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, specifically mentioned. It means working with our allies and partners. I am Minister for the UN, and it also means that we work with China in certain respects when it comes to particular issues. Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine is an example. We are engaging with China in that respect.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Balfe that we must keep communication channels open, even in the most testing of times. We are probably going through some of the most testing times in my time as a Minister. It is important that we keep discussion channels and sometimes back channels. I joked with my noble friend Lord Howe, who said that the best thing for a diplomat is to be discreet and to open back channels, which means you often say little; that would leave me with little to say at the Dispatch Box. Nevertheless, it is important that those channels remain open.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, spoke about the continuity of the relationship and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, focused on ensuring that we make it clear to China that security is our responsibility and that China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values. To the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who is not here, and the other parliamentarians who have been sanctioned by China—the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked about this—we say that it is not acceptable to directly challenge parliamentarians who use this Chamber and the other place. When we sanction, we do so under the rule of law so that anyone who is sanctioned has the ability to appeal. Can China say that? No, it cannot. We stand with those parliamentarians. I hope the noble Lord will agree that the Government have sought through direct engagement and through the FCDO to meet the challenges and concerns not just of parliamentarians but of others who have been sanctioned.

The first duty of any Government is to keep their country safe. Where tensions arise with other objectives on China, we will always put national security first. That is why, in answering some of the specifics on the actions the Government have taken, the new powers in the National Security Act make the UK a harder target for states—not just China—that seek to conduct hostile acts against the UK. This includes the foreign interference in our political system that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to, espionage, sabotage and acts that endanger life.

We will continue to strengthen ourselves at home, particularly our economic security, democratic freedom, critical national infrastructure and supply chains. I will expand on that in a moment. We will also invest in cybersecurity and increase protections for academic freedom and university research. It is clear that with some of the global challenges—artificial intelligence is one, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, among others, acknowledged—it is important to understand that there is a role. Even the great Lady Ahmad said to me a couple of days ago how forward China was in its planning when it came to artificial intelligence. Our actions should not be words alone. We need to act decisively. Many countries around the world will look to us for support.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also talked about our engagement with China. On trade issues, when my noble friend Lord Johnson visited he used opportunities, particularly those with the media, to speak against the procedures and the erosion of rights in China, and particularly in Hong Kong, and to address those key concerns. As we balance our relationship with China, it is important that we call these issues out.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also talked about the relationship with the DPRK in relation to the Human Rights Council, as did my noble friend Lord Swire. The UK was pleased to co-sponsor the resolution on DPRK human rights adopted at the Human Rights Council on 4 April. We continue to call on the DPRK to engage constructively. I note the point about returnees. I will seek to get more detail on that and write to the noble Lord in that respect.

However, any attempt by a foreign power to intimidate, harass or harm individuals, or indeed communities in the UK, will not be tolerated. That is an insidious threat to our democracy and fundamental human rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, it is about our value system.

Yes, China has a great influence, and my noble friend Lord Howell talked about its influence on the Commonwealth—I will come on to that in a moment— and other parts of the developing world, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, mentioned. I share the noble Lord’s ambition about 0.7%, and I have been clear at this Dispatch Box that cutting development support has not been as effective in terms of our approach. But, as my noble friends Lord Hannan and Lord Swire said, it is not just about calling out deficiencies in our own support; as my noble friend Lord Swire said, we need to fill the space. There has to be more co-operation and joint working, and we need to work not just on our own and on a bilateral basis but with other key partners as well.

On human rights, as the UK’s Human Rights Minister I share the concerns that were raised. People across China face widespread restrictions and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including severe constraints on media freedom and freedom of religion or belief, as well as the repression of culture and community, be that in Tibet or elsewhere, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lord Hannan mentioned. I was fascinated when my noble friend talked about the algorithm of diplomacy and how things are watched in a specific way. I must say that, although I accept that we live in a different world to that of 1945, the UK remains an influential player. Notwithstanding the war in Ukraine and the current crisis in the Middle East, I was proud of the strength of our diplomacy and advocacy and that we continued to build that coalition against China when it came to the abuse of human rights—and that is not without lobbying on its part. We achieved 52 countries, including ourselves, as my noble friend mentioned, and that was only yesterday. That demonstrates that we continue to focus, and it is important that we do not lose sight of these important issues.

The UK has consistently pressed China to improve its human rights record and we conduct independent visits to areas of major concern wherever possible. We support NGOs in exposing and reacting to human rights violations and use our voice on the international stage to effectively raise the reputational and diplomatic cost of human rights violations in China. We regularly raise our concerns at the highest levels with the Chinese Government quite directly, and we did so on the recent visit of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. However, it is important that we relay those points quite firmly.

I will share one experience among many others; the power of diplomacy is not just phone calls and the advocacy we do. It is the ability to sit down, not just with your friends and partners but with those with whom we disagree, and share home truths and the reasons why the values system we stand for—the democratic freedoms we enjoy—will benefit any country that wishes to progress.

On Hong Kong, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lord Hannan, and others raised, China’s imposition of the national security law in 2020 has seen the opposition stifled and dissent criminalised, and alternative voices across Hong Kong society have been all but extinguished. Changes to electoral rules have further eroded the ability of Hong Kongers to be legitimately represented at all levels of government. The UK responded rapidly and decisively to the imposition of the rather draconian national security law. As a demonstration of our commitment to Hong Kong and its people, we opened the door through our British national (overseas) scheme. There were 176,000 applications.

Noble Lords also rightly mentioned the detention of Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong. He has stood up bravely for freedom and democracy, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we continue to raise this directly with Chinese and Hong Kong authorities and press for consular access in this respect.

The UK plays a leading role in co-ordinating an international response to human rights violations, and I alluded to the strength of working with partners. However, what is important, for example in the situation with the Uighurs, is that we need to broaden those alliances. If I may, I declare an interest as a Muslim, and this is the biggest internment of Muslims anywhere in the world. We need more of the Islamic world to stand up and speak out. I assure noble Lords that we are working on that, because it is important that we bring that focus through the strength of the relationships we have.

In his thoughtful response and reflections, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, talked about Taiwan, as did the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. Many other noble Lords touched, rightly, on that relationship. The UK’s position on Taiwan has not changed: we do not support any unilateral attempts to change the status quo. The UK believes the issue must be settled by the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, without the threat or use of force or coercion. But we must be vigilant and that is why AUKUS is important.

We are disturbed by reports of coercion and intimidation in the South China Sea. We oppose any action which changes the facts on the ground, raises tension and hinders the chances of peaceful settlement of the disputes. My noble friend referred particularly to some of our maritime assets and the work done by the incredible people in our Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence. The UK is committed to international law, the primacy of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to freedom of navigation and overflight. We oppose any action that brings those into dispute, and miscalculations should not be underestimated.

Several noble Lords referred to China and Russia. I will come on to the specifics but, to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, there is a lot going in the world at the moment and one recent development was the BRICS summit, including the BRICS-plus. When you look down the list, you see the UAE, Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina and Iran—so the list is an interesting one. The noble Lord talked about the dollar denomination; prior to becoming a Minister, I was in financial services, in banking, and we recently saw the first rupee-denominated payment for oil from the UAE. These things should not be underestimated. There is a real challenge to some of the structures and systems that we are used to operating in.

I am glad, though, that many of the contributions also recognised the importance of engaging directly with China in our national interest—and we will, on many of the issues mentioned, including AI, which I have already alluded to. Equally, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said at Mansion House, disengaging with China

“would be a betrayal of our national interest and a wilful misunderstanding of the modern world”.

Meeting the challenge of climate change, as several noble Lords said, cannot be achieved without engaging with China in the objectives we have.

I assure noble Lords that we align our efforts, as there is a need for what I would term mature diplomacy between two permanent members of the UN Security Council. We also align with the approaches of many of our closest allies, including those in Europe, the US, Australia, Canada and Japan. The Government are also investing in the expertise and capability to respond to the challenges China poses. We have committed to investing in the skills and knowledge of UK officials, giving them the tools to better understand China in responding to the systematic challenges that we face specifically from it. That includes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, will be pleased to hear, investing specifically in Mandarin speakers at the Foreign Office.

I turn to some issues on the China strategy implementation, which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, focused on. The National Security Secretariat within the Cabinet Office co-ordinates the implementation of our approach to China across government. This gives us a clear view of China’s activities and allows the Government to prioritise our work in this respect. To touch on a few issues of specific support, the Government have published, for example, overseas business risk guidance in relation to China to help UK firms negotiate the ethical, legal and commercial questions they may meet as they do business in China. The Government have also committed to investing in the skills and knowledge of UK officials. We are looking at curriculum events and language, including a cross-government Mandarin offer, which is expected to train hundreds of civil servants this year alone.

The noble and gallant Lord will be interested to know that we are enhancing our economic security levers in this respect, which will enable the UK to deal with confidence with some of the challenges that China poses. The UK has taken robust action: we have announced the application of military end-use controls to China, as part of our revised export control regime; we have launched the National Security and Investment Act, giving the Government new powers to intervene in acquisitions where we have national security concerns; and we have strengthened the visa screening of Chinese academics and researchers in sensitive areas of research.

As my noble friend Lord Howell rightly said, we need to work with China, as the world’s largest investor in sustainable energy and the largest carbon emitter, as well. Engaging with China on climate change can only have a positive effect. China is responsible for over half the global demand for coal and currently operates 58% of its power from coal. We are pushing China to phase out its coal use and to increase ambition on its NDCs, so that its emissions peak earlier and it reduces them more quickly.

Several noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the recent comments by MI5. The IRR made clear the position that China presents a defining challenge to the United Kingdom. The Government are working to embed an approach to future engagement with China that is in the national interest. In this regard, I am sure the noble and gallant Lord will acknowledge that it is important that we work with our key allies—namely, the Five Eyes—and we are doing exactly that.

I will turn to some of the other key points. There were a number of questions, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. If I may, I will write to him. On Chinese influence across the Commonwealth, which my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Swire focused on, it is quite startling. In total, China has invested £685 billion in Africa, the largest recent recipients including Ghana and South Africa. I recall during the last Australian election the Chinese Foreign Minister travelling to the Pacific Islands, particularly the Solomon Islands, and agreeing security guarantees and support. Therefore, I agree with many noble Lords’ assessment that we need to fill the gap. There is no point just calling it out. I have heard it directly: “That’s great Minister; what’s the offer?” We need to stand by, focus and ensure we meet that challenge.

We are taking steps within the Commonwealth. My noble friend Lord Howell will know how passionate I am about the Commonwealth portfolio—so much so that I was given it back a few months ago. In all seriousness, it presents a huge opportunity for what more we can do working with key partners, particularly those emerging as economic powers within the Commonwealth family.

Tackling threats to higher education was raised. We have introduced a series of measures that will continue to tackle threats to higher education, including through the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, is absolutely correct that my responsibilities do not extend to the Department for Education, but I will come back to her on her specific question. On the Confucius Institutes, I listened very carefully to her contribution, but I am sure she recognises that, as other noble Lords mentioned, there are concerns about interference in our higher education sector. We are taking action to remove government funding from Confucius Institutes in the UK, but currently judge that it would be disproportionate to ban them. This needs careful steps forward. Like any international body operating in the UK, the institutes need to operate transparently and within the law. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned a number of other such areas as well.

On supply chains, I will clarify and give some detail on the questions raised by the noble and gallant Lord. We are taking action to protect our supply chains, in the semiconductor strategy of May 2023 and the critical minerals strategy of July 2023, and we will shortly publish the UK supply and import strategy to support specific government and business action to strengthen our resilience in critical supply chains. I will of course share that with noble Lords.

On the BRI forum, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, my noble friends Lord Hannan and Lord Swire, and others that, had we not been in the current crisis, everyone would be talking about the meeting taking place between the Presidents of China and of Russia. Of course, the UN Secretary-General was also present in Beijing. We need to ensure that, while there are crises on the world stage, we are not distracted from some of the key objectives we have set ourselves.

China poses a defining challenge for the United Kingdom and many countries around the world, including our key Five Eyes partners, as well as in every area of government policy and everyday life in Britain. That is why the Government set out in the integrated review refresh, and why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary explained in his Mansion House speech earlier this year, how we will protect our national security, align with our partners and engage with China where it is in our national interest to do so.

We have taken action, some of which I have outlined, including new powers under different legislation. We will align and deepen our co-operation with core allies to influence China and sustain pressure by broadening the range of countries we are speaking to. Also, importantly, we will engage with Beijing on key global issues, as I outlined, including the war in Ukraine. We will continue to press China to join the UK in pushing Mr Putin to cease hostilities and withdraw his forces from Ukraine.

Noble Lords have made wide-ranging contributions and in the time available, I have not been able to answer a number of questions, so, as I said, I will come back in the usual way, through a letter. The Government value and appreciate the input and insights we have heard today, and the manner in which they were presented. In defining our relationship with countries such as China going forward, it is right that this Government—any Government—be challenged directly to share the detail, in order to see how we balance what is a complex but important relationship.

Motion agreed.