Rishi Sunak’s controversial meeting with Chinese president cancelled

Downing Street blames disruption to schedules caused by missile in Poland

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 16 November 2022 10:11 GMT
Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden attend emergency G20 meeting after missile strikes Poland

Rishi Sunak’s controversial meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping has been cancelled amid disruption caused to the G20 summit in Indonesia after a missile strike in Poland.

Downing Street blamed timetable disruption resulting from the shock incident for squeezing the Xi talks out of the PM’s schedule, but declined to say which side had cancelled the meeting.

Plans for the meeting on the margins of the Bali summit, announced at the last minute on Tuesday, sparked alarm among Conservative China hawks, who feared Mr Sunak was going soft on Beijing.

It came after Mr Sunak signalled that he would not press ahead with predecessor Liz Truss’s plan to upgrade China from a “challenge” to a “threat”, alongside Russia, in the official assessment of the UK’s defence, security and foreign policy priorities.

Responding to news of the planned meeting, former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said he was “worried” that Sunak would be perceived as weak by Xi because of the appearance that the UK was “drifting into appeasement with China”.

And campaigner Luke de Pulford of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China warned against giving Xi the impression relations were returning to “business as usual” after yars in

During the summer’s Conservative leadership contest, Mr Sunak named China as “the biggest long-term threat to Britain and the world’s economic and national security” and pledged a range of measures to counter its influence.

But on arrival in Indonesia, he significantly dialed down his rhetoric, saying that China was “undoubtedly the biggest state-based threat to our economic security”, but that in national security terms it was a “systemic challenge” rather than a “threat”.

Mr Sunak’s efforts to dial down tensions with Beijing echoed the stance of Joe Biden in his first in-person talks as president with Mr Xi on Monday, in which he attempted to position the relationship between their two superpowers as one of competition, not conflict.

No 10 today played down suggestions that political concerns had played any role in the cancellation of the planned meeting.

The PM’s official spokesperson said that there had been significant changes to timetables on all sides after Mr Biden called an impromptu meeting of Nato and G7 leaders in Bali in response to the Polish missile.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said she had “no information to share” concerning the reasons behind the cancellation.

The spokesperson said: “China is committed to working with the UK to promote the healthy and stable development of China-UK relations on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and hopes that the UK will meet China halfway.”

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