Talk about a tale of two campaigns. China has been one of the dominant themes this week in the Tory leadership race. Both candidates knocked lumps out of each other in BBC’s Monday debate, with the Foreign Secretary suggesting she could even ban TikTok. But tonight, the issue has reared its head again twice within a few hours.
First, Rishi Sunak was left embarrassed by a leaked Treasury paper which suggested he was close to signing a deal with Beijing to ‘deepen trade links’ earlier this year. It boasted 47 pages of ‘policy outcomes’ for closer ties in 20 areas. They included inviting a huge Chinese sovereign wealth fund to open a London office and welcoming the listing of Chinese companies on the London Stock Exchange. Ultimately though, Sunak and the Treasury dropped the plan over national security concerns.
And now, Liz Truss’s camp has fired back with their own plan to deal with China. Marking the beginning of the Commonwealth Games, Truss has today announced that she will launch a ‘New Commonwealth Deal’ to strengthen economic ties across the Commonwealth to ensure it acts as a bulwark to China. It aims to expedite bilateral trade agreements with member nations by prioritising a model Commonwealth Trade template which, once agreed, will allow countries to have access to a fast-track process to establish tailored bilateral agreements. You can take the girl out of the Department for Trade…
Veteran China campaigner Luke de Pulford told Mr S that ‘these are likeminded nations who we have allowed to be seduced by Xi Jinping’s investments for too long. This now needs to be combined with a task force to root out the failed assumptions of the Golden Era which run through Whitehall like a stick of rock.’ He added: ‘In the battle of the China hawks there’s one clear winner.’
Will the Tory selectorate see it that way? One thing’s for sure: pushing trade deals helped take Truss to the top of the Conservative Home cabinet rankings as the pick of the membership. With such initiatives soon she might be the one picking the cabinet herself…
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