China's President, Xi Jinping waits to address MPs and peers in Parliament's Royal Gallery on 20 October, 2015 (Dan Kitwood - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

IDS – I nearly walked out on Xi Jinping’s address to parliament

Duncan Smith sees TPP membership as a means of securing an Anglo-American counterbalance to China in Asia-Pacific


Interviewed for The Critic’s podcast, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, has described China as “not just a competitor, they are a strategic threat.” He believes that the danger posed to the UK and USA is greater than that posed by Russia.

Last month, Sir Iain was among ten British individuals and organisations against which Beijing imposed sanctions in response to their criticism of China’s human rights record. Whilst the former leader of the Conservative party – who was one of the parliamentary leaders of the successful campaign to strip Huawei of its role in Britain’s 5G network and remains an outspoken opponent of Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur ethnic minority – says that the sanctions will likely have limited consequences for him, given he does not have direct financial assets in China nor has plans to visit the country, they could limit the future movements of his family.

In the interview, which explored his assessment of whether China is now engaged in a Cold War with the West, Sir Iain was highly critical of the attitude of the Cameron-Clegg coalition government in which he served – until his resignation – as work and pensions secretary. He depicted its efforts to secure a “golden era” of Sino-British relations as a period of “naïve engagement.”  He says the Cameron government “ignored” the signs that they were being effectively taken for a ride and such limp efforts that it made to raise human rights concerns on Tibet and other fronts were never more than half-hearted “tokenistic nonsense.”

In particular, Sir Iain reveals that he had to be dissuaded by a Cabinet colleague from walking out during the “menacing speech” and “arrogant address” that president Xi Jinping delivered to both houses of parliament in October 2015. He now wishes that he had made his feelings felt.

But Sir Iain is more hopeful that Boris Johnson’s government is shifting away from a policy of appeasement in return for investment and that, in consequence, “at last that alliance is beginning to re-form” with the United States. The Biden administration understands the imperative of creating an alternative investment magnate for China’s neighbours who are otherwise being drawn by the pull of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.

He believes the still embryonic Trans Pacific Partnership “is absolutely determined to have us on board.”  And that British membership will help bring the United States into the trade agreement as a counter to Chinese influence in the Pacific. Far from this being a distant prospect, he foresees the process being accelerated and much “can be achieved in the next two years.”

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