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Rishi Sunak warns China is the ‘challenge of the era’ for UK security

China poses 'epoch-defining challenge' to everyday lives of British people, says Rishi

The PM warned Britain will ‘push back’ against any Chinese threats to British interest (Picture: Rex)

China poses an ‘epoch-defining challenge’ to the security of the UK and the wider world, Rishi Sunak has said.

The prime minister pledged to continue ‘engaging’ with Beijing but warned ‘our approach must evolve’ to deal with its growing alliance with Russia.

His comments came in a foreword to an updated review of UK foreign and defence policy.

They marked the sternest tone toward China taken by Mr Sunak since his campaign for Tory leadership, when he called it the ‘biggest long-term threat to Britain’.

China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang Holds Press Conference

China has been accused of bending poorer nations to its will through ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ (Picture: Getty)

He has since dialled down on his language and Britain’s official foreign policy does not designate China as a threat.

But the updated review refers to ‘actions and stated intent’ which ‘threatens the UK’s interest’.

In his foreword, Mr Sunak said: ‘China poses an epoch-defining challenge to the type of international order we want to see, both in terms of security and values – and so our approach must evolve.

‘We will work with our partners to engage with Beijing on issues such as climate change.’

But he also warned Britain will ‘push back’ against ‘any attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to coerce or create dependencies’, possibly hinting to China’s policy of providing huge loans to many African nations in exchange for infrastructure contracts.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arriving to take part in media interviews at the harbour in San Diego, US, ahead of his meetings with US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese as part of Aukus, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US. Picture date: Monday March 13, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Aukus. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA Wire

Mr Sunak helmed a flurry of new defence announcements including a boost to defence spending (Picture: PA)

Around 12% of Africa’s foreign debt is owed to China, and controversy continues over whether the country is engaging in ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ to turn poorer nations into political allies.

The review highlights China’s ‘deepening partnership’ with Russia and Moscow’s ‘growing cooperation’ with Iran as two developments of ‘particular concern’.

It also accuses premier Xi Jinping of overseeing a continuing drift toward ‘authoritarianism and assertiveness’.

It goes on to say: ‘Where it is consistent with [British national] interests, we will engage constructively with the Chinese government, business and people and cooperate on shared priorities.

‘But wherever the Chinese Communist Party’s actions and stated intent threaten the UK’s interests, we will take swift and robust action to protect them.’

Meanwhile, the review also confirmed plans to increase defence spending by £5 billion over the next two years.

The government now has an ‘aspiration’ to raise it to 2.5% of national income ‘as financial and economic circumstances allow’, it added.

Officials also vowed to keep fighting Moscow’s ‘malign’ influence on world affairs by working with countries such as Moldova and Mongolia while ‘degrading’ Russian capabilities which threaten the UK.

The report continues: ‘A vital part of this is supporting Ukraine to reassert its sovereignty and denying Russia any strategic benefit from its invasion.’

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