US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged Britain to work with America to develop a new policy towards China as Beijing threatened retaliation over Britain’s response to the new national security law in Hong Kong.
Pompeo said he had had a “constructive visit” to London on Tuesday after meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
He was also due to meet the self-exiled Hong Kong student activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung at the US ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park.
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“Social distance does not imply diplomatic or political distance,” Johnson joked as he walked Pompeo into his office in Downing Street.
Following the talks, Pompeo said: “Our two countries’ long-standing, strong bilateral relationship has laid the foundation for today’s candid discussion on issues ranging from 5G telecommunication to our negotiations for a US-UK free trade agreement,” he tweeted.
Constructive visit with @BorisJohnson today. Our two countries’ long-standing, strong bilateral relationship has laid the foundation for today’s candid discussion on issues ranging from 5G telecommunication to our negotiations for a U.S.-UK free trade agreement. pic.twitter.com/9j1o3bK8e6
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 21, 2020
A Downing Street spokesman said the pair had discussed “global security and foreign policy issues, including China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang”.
The statement also said they had discussed the importance of the members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – whose members also include Canada, Australia and New Zealand – “taking an ambitious approach to working together on the technologies of the future’.
Law was expected to raise concerns surrounding the Hong Kong Legislative Council elections in September, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Hong Kong officials cast doubt on the legality of primary polls held by opposition parties last week, saying they risked violating the new security law.
Pompeo’s visit was designed to focus more on China than bilateral issues, even though Downing Street had high hopes of reaching a trade agreement with Washington as soon as Brexit is finalised early next year.
He began his Tuesday trip with a private round table with senior Conservative critics of China, including Iain Duncan Smith and Bob Seely. Labour MPs also attended the event at the Henry Jackson Society, a hawkish foreign policy think tank.
Asked about Pompeo’s main message, Seely said it was: “Work with us on a new policy on China.”
Pompeo was also “very clear” about Hong Kong and Xinjiang. “Hong Kong was absolutely discussed, and Xinjiang was high up on his mind,” Seely said.
Another participant who requested anonymity said: “Hong Kong was cited by Pompeo as an example of how to forge a coordinated US-UK response against China.” He added that the timeline of Huawei’s removal from the British 5G network had also been discussed.
Pompeo then went on to No 10 Downing Street for a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He was also due to meet Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party.
The fact that Pompeo met backbench MPs before the Prime Minister caught some by surprise.
“I think Pompeo wants to hear what the mood in Parliament is and scope out the full extent of the UK’s China debate at the moment,” a spokesman for HJS told Politico.
In a dramatic policy reversal last week, the government said UK mobile providers would be banned from buying Huawei 5G equipment at the end of the year and will have to remove existing equipment by 2027. But some hawkish members of parliament, including Duncan Smith, have urged Johnson to bring forward the timetable.
Pompeo congratulated Johnson for getting “the complete right end of the stick on this one”.
The Chinese foreign ministry responded by accusing Britain of becoming “America’s dupe”. It also criticised the UK’s moves to suspend the extradition treaty with Hong Kong and open a pathway to British citizenship for around 3 million Hongkongers who are eligible for British National (Overseas) passports.
The British government’s recent moves threaten to bring an early end to the “golden era” in relations with China that the former finance minister George Osborne promised during a visit to Beijing five years ago.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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