This week’s primary issue focused around how to counter the People’s Republic of China.
London: The leadership contest between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak continues. This week it is perceived that Truss will be the next Prime Minister. It is no secret in the media that Boris Johnson favours Truss. Sunak is the fall guy for starting the avalanche of resignations from Johnson’s government, a reputation that has made him unpopular with the grassroots. His image and life story are seen as too slick and privileged, whereas Truss’s delivery is stilted and her state-educated life story, plus her transformation into a Conservative, resonates with members and voters.
Times have changed, and now foreign policy is a hot potato in campaigns. This week’s primary issue focused around how to counter the People’s Republic of China. Sunak, who is trailing in the polls behind Truss, was first out of the start box, painting a bleak picture of China’s threat to the UK’s national security and the economy through theft, infiltration, and insurmountable debt. Sunak proposed banning Confucius Institutes (thought to be about 30 in the UK) and mandating British universities to disclose any foreign funding partnerships worth more than £50,000. Creating a new NATO-style international alliance of free nations to defend against Chinese cyber-threats and to use MI5 to help British businesses counter Chinese spying and industrial espionage and scrutinise Chinese acquisitions of key British assets. Some people found Sunak’s new facing down China hard to swallow, as previously he was all for inviting the China Investment Corporation to set up in London, and was welcoming of listing Chinese companies on the London Stock Exchange. Sunak took some flak from conservatives for referring to China as a nation and not to the Chinese Communist Party.
On Thursday, timed to chime with the first day of the Commonwealth Games, Liz Truss, who has been hawkish about the CCP since becoming Foreign Secretary, launched her Commonwealth Strategy “to act as a vital bulwark to China” and other authoritarian regimes seeking to undermine democratic values and freedom. This strategy is a perfect fusion of trade policy and geopolitics. Truss believes the Commonwealth, which is the largest group of nations that does not contain either China or Russia, has an increasingly important role to play in global geopolitics. Truss talks about strengthening economic security across freedom-loving nations to counter the malign influence of the PRC, and with a nod to Boris Johnson, she puts Global Britain at the heart of the Commonwealth. It is no coincidence that the commercial and environmental aims of the Commonwealth are in sync with the goals of the G7 and AUKUS. Many Commonwealth countries have ports in strategic locations along the essential global shipping routes for freedom of navigation and the re-configuration of supply chains. Commonwealth countries are stakeholders in the resources the rest of the world needs: rare earth elements, food, fish stocks, intellectual capital, people; and the Indo-Pacific is the future resource for solar, wind, and sea renewable energy and unquantified reserves of oil and gas.
Still, with five weeks to go, anything can happen, and there is Boris Johnson champing to get involved—14,000 have signed the petition for Johnson to carry on as PM. Whoever gets the job in No10 is not in for an easy ride. Once installed, there is inflation to wrestle with; energy prices and the cost of living to somehow reduce; the Rwanda immigration policy to implement; the divisions still existential amongst Tory MPs will make it tricky to pass legislation; all against the potential backdrop of the new PM having no mandate and the media calling for a general election.