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Australia, UK and US pact is threat to regional stability, warns Chinese envoy

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden discuss the Aukus pact (PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US President Joe Biden discuss the Aukus pact (PA)

The Aukus security pact involving Australia, the UK and US endangers stability in the Pacific, China’s ambassador to the UK has warned.

The deal involves the development of a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines for Australia in response to China’s rise as a military and economic force in the region.

Ambassador Zheng Zeguang said blocs such as Aukus were “not conducive to regional stability”.

In a speech to the Asia House think tank in London, he said he hoped the UK would work with China to increase “mutual trust”.

Rishi Sunak visit to US
Anthony Albanese, Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak attend an Aukus event in San Diego in 2023 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The UK-China relationship has deteriorated since the “golden era” when then prime minister David Cameron sought closer economic ties with Beijng.

Security concerns, disputes over the treatment of pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong and human rights abuses in China have all contributed to tensions.

But Mr Zheng said: “China follows a consistent policy towards the UK, continuing to seek a relationship based on mutual respect, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and win-win co-operation.

“We see great potential in our bilateral economic, educational and cultural tourism co-operation.”

He said the “two countries should enhance understanding, avoid, misjudgment and misperception and increase mutual trust through dialogue”.

But he said China was “resolutely opposed” to “exclusive” blocs such as Aukus.

“Such blocs are not conducive to regional stability, and we only create division and friction.”

Mr Zheng also said China would do “whatever it takes to thwart any attempt for Taiwan independence and any interference from external forces”.

Earlier this month former prime minister and current Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron congratulated the pro-independence candidate Lai Ching-te on his victory in Taiwan’s presidential election

Mr Lai has vowed to safeguard the island’s de-facto independence from Beijing.

The UK does not recognise Taiwan as a state, and Lord Cameron said he hoped both sides in the dispute could “renew efforts to resolve differences peacefully through constructive dialogue, without the threat or use of force or coercion”.

Indo-Pacific minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the Asia House event she hoped that engagement with China would continue to grow through 2024, with “open channels” to discuss areas of concern.

“The Covid pandemic taught us that it is prudent to reduce dependencies in our critical supply chains, but we do believe that a positive trade and investment relationship with China is also critically important for both our countries’ interests,” she said.

“So we must maintain open channels to discuss all areas of our relationship, including where we have concerns. That includes the deterioration of freedoms in Hong Kong and the need to preserve peace in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. These are matters of global interest.

“And so following Taiwan’s recent elections, I hope that those on both sides of the strait will renew efforts to resolve differences through constructive dialogue.”