Britain will not “pitchfork away” investment from China despite ongoing differences with Beijing over human rights and Hong Kong, Boris Johnson has said.
Ahead of the Global Investment Summit in London, the Prime Minister said China would continue to play a “gigantic part” in UK economic life for years to come.
At the same time, he insisted the Government would not be “naive” about allowing China access to the UK’s critical national infrastructure (CNI) such as nuclear power or the 5G communications network.
“I’m not going to tell you the UK government is going to pitchfork away every overture from China,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.
“China is a gigantic part of our economic life and will be for a long time – for our lifetime.
“But that does not mean that we should be naive in the way we look at our critical natural infrastructure – you mention nuclear power, you mention 5G technology – those are all legitimate concerns for any government.
“We should be cautious about how we handle our CNI and about how we handle FDI (foreign direct investment) from China …. that is why we have brought in some of the legislation that we have.”
His comments come after China reacted furiously to a new defence pact the UK signed with the United States and Australia aimed at countering Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
Mr Johnson said that despite such differences, UK trade with China had continued to grow.
“I am no Sino-phobe, very far from it. China is a great country, a great civilisation,” he said.
“In spite of all the difficulties, in spite of all the difficult conversations about the Dalai Lama or Hong Kong or the Uighurs – where we will continue to stick to our views – trade with China has continued to expand for a very long time.”
Mr Johnson would not be drawn on whether he expected China’s President Xi Jinping to attend the Cop26 international climate change talks taking place next month in Glasgow.
But he acknowledged they faced some “extremely tough” negotiations if they were to reach an agreement that would keep global temperature rises to 1.5C.
“I think Cop was always going to be extremely tough,” he said.
“What we want people to focus on is their nationally determined contributions in reducing their C02, making those hard pledges.
“We need to keep 1.5 alive, we need to restrict the growth in temperatures to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.
“We think by the commitments we are seeing we could do (it) but we are going to need some real action from the participants in Glasgow.”