Former MEP Stanley Johnson, father of current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has spoken out about the importance of continuing to work “very closely” with the Chinese government after the UK leaves the European Union, the Daily Mail reported on Sunday. He called on his son to “stand up” to Tory hawks seeking a “new cold war” with China because there was “no point” in trying to stand up to it.
Boris Johnson has rejected Tory demands that Britain be tougher despite a year of strained relations with China.
He told Times Radio that he was skeptical of the “tendency” of conservatives to “fabricate a conflict” with Beijing, and said there was no point in trying to respond in kind to Beijing.
Stanley Johnson called China “the key to a lot of things” – from climate change to the world economy and pandemics – and suggested that Tory enthusiasm could “shift” to Brussels.
‘China is definitely not black,’ he said. That’s the key to a lot of things. “Politically, it is absolutely critical that we work closely with China. He [the prime minister] was right not to set China aside on this and I think he was right to have discussions with them.”
“It is inevitable, even more so now that we have left the European Union.”
Asked whether the UK should take a tougher line with China, he added: “I don’t think we will. I don’t think there’s any way we can match China in arms.”
“I don’t think it makes any sense that we have to engage with China on an intellectual level,” he said. Look at the number of Chinese students studying at British universities today. Can you imagine the impact, or even the financial impact, on UK universities if we break with China now?”
“I mean, a lot of them will go out of business because they are so dependent on Chinese students, Chinese studies and so on. So I feel it very strongly.”
“What I’m worried about is the sudden tendency in the Tory Party to, you know, fudge… Maybe Ursula von der Leyen will distract them. We shall see if perhaps their combative instincts turn to Brussels at this very moment.”
Stanley Johnson met the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, in February last year and conveyed his concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak to British officials.
Stanley Johnson used his personal email address to share the discussions with Lord Goldsmith, the environment secretary, and other government officials.
He wrote: “Mr Liu is clearly concerned about the outbreak of COVID-19, as he claims there has been no direct contact between the prime minister and the Chinese head of state or government through personal messages or phone calls.”
The Chinese ambassador told him that the British prime minister had not contacted Beijing directly, while sources told the BBC that Stanley Johnson was not acting on behalf of or at the request of the British government.
In an interview with Times Radio, Mr Johnson also revealed that he once sang the hippopotamus song with the Chinese ambassador at a meeting.
His intervention comes amid strong opposition from the Conservative Party to the government’s strategy on relations with China. The government’s comprehensive review was published last week.
The security document was much softer on China than on Russia, saying that while China was an “authoritarian state” it would become “an increasingly important partner”.
‘China is becoming an increasingly important partner in addressing global challenges such as pandemic preparedness, biodiversity and climate change,’ the report said.
“We will continue to pursue positive economic relations, including deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK.”
Announcing the document last week, Boris Johnson told MPs the government had been at the forefront of criticism of Beijing’s human rights abuses.
‘There’s no doubt that China is going to pose a huge challenge to an open society like ours,’ he said. But we will also work with China because it is consistent with our values and interests.