Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday warned against anti-Chinese sentiment, despite renewing strong criticism about Beijing’s actions and policies.
“I don’t want this country or this government to lurch into a position of unthinking sinophobia,” he told the heads of parliament’s select committees.
“There’s a balance to be struck.”
Britain has angered China by denouncing the implementation of a controversial security law in its former colony of Hong Kong, which has been used against pro-democracy activists.
It has offered Hong Kongers a route to citizenship, by relaxing entry requirements for those with British National (Overseas) passports.
It has also blocked the involvement of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei in Britain’s 5G network, bowing to US pressure, which assesses the firm as a security risk.
And on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned what he said was the “barbarism” of China’s treatment of its Uighur minority in northwest Xinjiang province.
Britain has now introduced import controls on firms who may have directly or inadvertently sourced goods from the province using forced Uighur labour.
That prompted an angry response from Beijing, which warned Britain to stop meddling in its internal affairs.
But Johnson told lawmakers that despite having to be vigilant, particularly about threats to critical national infrastructure and data from cyberspace, the UK could maintain bilateral ties.
“I want a world in which we’re able to have good relations with China, where we’re able to interact freely with China and speak frankly to China,” he said.
“Speaking frankly and calling out human rights abuses should not stop us from having a productive relationship, where that is possible.”