David Cameron says Britain will ‘continue to engage with China’ during call with Beijing’s foreign minister – as new Foreign Secretary dodges questions over his business links with the Asian country in first grilling by the House of Lords
David Cameron today vowed Britain will ‘continue to engage with China’ as he spoke to his counterpart in Beijing.
The Foreign Secretary, who made a dramatic return to Government last month, told China’s foreign minister Wang Yi he intended to have a ‘constructive relationship’.
It came as Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, as the ex-prime minister is now formally known, this afternoon escaped a grilling over his own business links with China.
In peers’ first opportunity to quiz the Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords, no questions were raised about Lord Cameron’s past relationship with Beijing.
Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, as the ex-prime minister is now formally known, escaped a House of Lords grilling over his business links with China
The Foreign Secretary had earlier vowed Britain will ‘continue to engage with China ‘ as he spoke to his counterpart in Beijing
Lord Cameron, pictured while he was PM in 2015, enjoying a pint with Chinese President Xi Jinping
This was despite Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee having previously raised concerns, prior to Lord Cameron’s return as Foreign Secretary, about his appointment as vice-chair of a £1billion UK-China investment fund.
There has also been scrutiny of the Lord Cameron’s involvement with the Colombo Port City in Sri Lanka, viewed as a major part of China’s controversial belt and road initiative.
Campaigners last month wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ethics chief to put pressure on Lord Cameron to set out the details of his past business dealings with China.
There was additional concern when Chinese state media hailed Lord Cameron’s to ministerial office in November.
Ex-Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said an opinion piece in The Global Times newspaper saying Lord Cameron’s appointment could ‘breathe new life’ into UK-China ties ‘raises the issue of conflict of interest’.
Luke de Pulford, of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: ‘In the eyes of Beijing, Cameron is one of theirs – hopelessly compromised by his financial interests and history of uncritical engagement with Xi Jinping’s dictatorship.’
But there were no direct questions about Lord Cameron’s links with Beijing as he appeared before unelected peers this afternoon.
The Foreign Secretary was instead quizzed about the war in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and the UK’s relationship with the EU.
According to the Politico website, some peers had tabled questions on China prior to Lord Cameron’s appearance in the Lords this afternoon, but none were successful in a ballot to decide what topics he would be quizzed on.
There was one mention of China when Baroness Kennedy used a question about Belarus sanctions to raise the case of pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai, who is charged with colluding with foreign forces under Hong Kong’s controversial national security law.
Lord Cameron told the Labour peer he was ‘aware of the case of Jimmy Lai’, adding: ‘It’s very important that we raise these cases including that one when we have interactions with the with the Chinese government, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.’
Just prior to his first time answering questions in the Lords, the Foreign Secretary revealed details of his call with his counterpart in Beijing.
Lord Cameron posted on Twitter: ‘I spoke to China’s foreign minister Wang Yi today.
‘We discussed our intention to have a constructive relationship, the situation in Israel and Gaza, and Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
‘The UK will continue to engage with China where it furthers our interests.’
Lord Cameron was made a life peer last month to allow him to serve in Mr Sunak’s Cabinet after he resigned as an MP in the wake of losing the EU referendum in 2016.
The former Tory leader previously sat in the House of Commons for 15 years, including five years as leader of the Opposition and six years as PM.
There has been disgruntlement about the fact he cannot appear in the Commons in his new role as Foreign Secretary, due to his peerage, which has fuelled concerns about democratic accountability.
In a letter to Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran blasted the means for holding the Lord Cameron to account as ‘woefully lacking’.
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