The Prime Minister told the Chinese Premier he has ‘significant concerns about a parliamentary researcher being arrested for alleged spying.
Rishi Sunak met Li Qiang at the G20 summit in New Delhi on Sunday, hours after news of two arrests in the UK under the Official Secrets Act emerged.
He told broadcasters at the summit: ‘Well, I obviously can’t comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation but with regard to my meeting with Premier Li what I said very specifically is that I raised a range of different concerns that we have in areas of disagreement, and in particular, my very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable.
‘We discussed a range of things and I raised areas where there are disagreements. And this is just part of our strategy to protect ourselves, protect our values and our interests, to align our approach to China with that of our allies like America, Australia, Canada, Japan and others, but also to engage where it makes sense.
‘And actually, I think the right thing to do is take the opportunity to engage to raise concerns specifically, rather than just shouting from the sidelines.’
A No10 spokesperson later said: ‘The PM conveyed his significant concerns about Chinese interference in the UK’s parliamentary democracy.’
The Metropolitan Police was forced to admit two men, one in his 20s and one in his 30s, had been arrested following an investigation by the Sunday Times.
One is a researcher who has had links to several senior Tory MPs, including security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns.
The Briton was arrested along with another man by officers on March 13 on suspicion of spying for Beijing, it was revealed by the Sunday Times.
Mr Sunak has faced criticism from some senior Conservatives for seeking a relationship with a China they see as increasingly a threat.
But this morning, justice secretary Alex Chalk defended the prime minister to the BBC.
He said: ‘You cannot wish away China – China is the world’s second-biggest economy.
‘When we try to address climate change, China is responsible for about 28%, 29%, 30% of global emissions. We in the UK are responsible for 1%.
‘On this specific point, however, on this issue of threat, in the instant case, let the police do their job. If there are to be proceedings we don’t want to say anything which prejudices those proceedings.
‘But we proceed with caution when it comes to China. So that means we stand up for human rights, we stand up for the rule of law.’
When pressed on whether the Government should be taking a ‘tougher line’ on China, Mr Chalk responded: ‘We have to take a calibrated line.’
He went on: ‘It would be wrong to totally disengage and, incidentally, our other G7 allies – if you look at France, if you look at Germany – they’re adopting a similar approach as well.
‘So of course there are plenty of things taking place in China which we are right to raise with the Chinese.
‘We will always uphold our values as a rule of law nation, as a nation that believes in fundamental human rights and we won’t be afraid to assert them.
‘But it would be quite wrong to pretend they (China) don’t exist and don’t engage. Given that livelihoods in our country depend on what happens in Beijing, it’s right to engage.’
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