China poses a "systemic" threat to British values and interests, according to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose government condemned Beijing after a BBC journalist was beaten while covering protests in Shanghai.
In his first major speech on foreign policy, Sunak declared that the so-called "golden age" of UK-China relations was over, along with the naive notion that trade would automatically lead to social and political reform.
In his speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London, he stated that the United Kingdom would "need to evolve our approach to China" as a result of Beijing's "conscious competition for global influence using all the levers of state power."
"Let's be clear, the so-called 'golden age' is over, along with the naive notion that trade would lead to social and political reform," Sunak said, referencing former British Finance Minister George Osborne's description of Sino-British relations in 2015.
His administration will prioritize strengthening economic and security ties with Indo-Pacific allies, he stated, adding that "economics and security are inextricably linked" in the region.
Some members of Sunak's Conservative Party have criticized the prime minister, arguing that he is less of a China hawk than his predecessor, Liz Truss.
During his campaign against Liz Truss for the top job, he pledged to be tough on China if he were elected, labeling the Asian superpower the "number one threat" to domestic and global security.
However, a planned meeting between Sunak and Chinese President Xi Jinping at this month's G20 summit in Bali fell through, and London banned the use of Chinese-made security cameras in sensitive government buildings last week.
"We recognize China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests, a challenge that grows more severe as China moves toward even greater authoritarianism," he said, referring to the BBC's claim that one of its journalists was assaulted by Chinese police.
"Of course, we cannot simply disregard China's importance in international affairs, whether in terms of global economic stability or issues such as climate change. The United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and many others recognize this as well."
Ed Lawrence, a BBC journalist accredited to work in China, was arrested during a COVID lockdown demonstration in Shanghai and detained for several hours, causing tensions between the two countries to increase.
The British public broadcaster claims police assaulted and kicked him.
Lawrence tweeted on Monday to thank his followers after his release, adding that he believed "at least one local national was arrested for attempting to stop the police from assaulting me."
Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom James Cleverly termed the incident "deeply disturbing."
"Freedom of the press and protest must be respected. "No nation is immune," he tweeted.
"Journalists must be able to perform their duties without fear"
Hundreds of people took to the streets in China's major cities on Sunday in a rare display of discontent with the government's unwavering commitment to eradicating COVID.
Monday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Lawrence had not identified himself as a journalist.
"According to what we learned from relevant Shanghai authorities, he did not identify himself as a journalist and did not present his press credentials voluntarily," said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
He instructed the international media to "abide by Chinese laws and regulations" while in China.