'Bin the red carpet and stand up to totalitarian China', Liz Truss urges Britain in first speech since stepping down

17 February 2023, 07:09 | Updated: 17 February 2023, 07:22

Liz Truss has urged Rishi Sunak to take a tougher stance on China
Liz Truss has urged Rishi Sunak to take a tougher stance on China. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The UK should be "standing up" to China, Liz Truss said on Friday, as the former Prime Minister calls on Rishi Sunak to do more to curb the influence of the "totalitarian" regime.

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Ms Truss who left the top job in October last year after less than two months, used a speech in Tokyo to call on Mr Sunak and the rest of the G7 leaders to agree sanctions against China in the event of further military escalation around Taiwan.

The former Foreign Secretary also recommended establishing an economic equivalent of the Nato military alliance for democratic nations if they need to respond to economic coercion, for democracies to audit and reduce dependency on China in critical industries, and to deepen economic ties with Taiwan.

Accepting Taiwan into international organisations and establishing a stronger Pacific defence alliance was also on Ms Truss' wish list.

Liz Truss in Japan
Liz Truss in Japan. Picture: Getty

She said: "Some people say standing up to this regime is a hopeless task, that somehow the rise of a totalitarian China is inevitable.

"But I reject this fatalism. And the free world has a significant role to play in whether or not that happens - and how it happens.

"It wasn't that long ago that the UK heralded a 'golden era' of UK-China relations. We rolled out the red carpet for the Chinese president - with all the pomp and ceremony that came with a state visit.

"I should know - I attended a banquet in his honour. Looking back, I think this sent the wrong message."

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On Taiwan, she said: "We must learn from the past. We must ensure that Taiwan is able to defend itself. And we must work together across the free world to do this."

Mr Sunak faces calls from some of his own backbenchers to take a tougher stance on China.

In November, Mr Sunak said the "golden era" of UK-Chinese relations was over but described the nation as a "systemic challenge" rather than a threat.

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There has been growing international concern over escalating tensions, with China recently having held large-scale military exercises seen by some as preparation for a blockade or invasion of Taiwan,

Implementing a tougher stance on China was widely anticipated under Ms Truss's leadership, but with her time as prime minister ending so quickly amid economic and political turmoil, she did not deliver on an expectation to re-designate China as a "threat".

Also speaking at the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) on Friday were two other former prime ministers, Australia's Scott Morrison and Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt.