Gaza and China top agenda for Foreign Secretary as Cameron returns to Government

David Cameron’s appointment has already drawn criticism over his stance on China.

Christopher McKeon
Monday 13 November 2023 10:50 GMT
David Cameron enters Number 10 amid Cabinet reshuffle

David Cameron will face a more complex and unstable world on his return to Government as Foreign Secretary, with crises across the globe demanding his attention.

Most pressing is the Israel-Hamas conflict, which could still escalate into a regional conflagration.

As recently as Thursday, James Cleverly was in Saudi Arabia discussing efforts to prevent escalation with Middle Eastern foreign ministers, and Lord Cameron will face an immediate task of carrying on that diplomatic effort.

The ongoing war in Ukraine will continue to make demands on the new Foreign Secretary’s attention, with Ukrainian President Zelensky warning of a “winter onslaught” from Russia that will require further support from the West.

As prime minister, Lord Cameron deployed UK troops to train Ukrainian forces in 2015 following Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which he described as a “flagrant breach of international law”.

In the longer term, it is the UK’s relationship with China that is likely to be the most challenging of Lord Cameron’s tasks.

As prime minister, he presided over the so-called “golden era” of relations between Britain and China, hosting a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and welcoming investment from Beijing into the UK.

Since then, relations between the two countries have deteriorated. In his first foreign policy speech as Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak declared the golden era over and described the pursuit of closer economic ties over the previous decade as “naive”.

But Lord Cameron has maintained ties with China. In 2017, for instance, he accepted a role as vice-president of a £1 billion China-UK investment fund, in a move described by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee as possibly “in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment, as well as to the broader China brand”.

Lord Cameron’s record on China has already led some to criticise his appointment as Foreign Secretary.

Luke de Pulford, executive director of the sinosceptic Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said it was an “incomprehensible, retrograde appointment” and described Lord Cameron as “out of step with Parliament and the country on China”.

The other longer-term challenge for Lord Cameron is the one that brought an end to his premiership – the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Relations have improved since Brexit, with the Windsor Framework seeming to settle the issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But the UK and the EU are still figuring out their relationship and there are other areas that may need negotiation or renegotiation, and Lord Cameron’s record as a more pro-Europe Conservative may help further smooth relations between London and Brussels.

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