UK’s Top Diplomat Will Visit China To Shore Up Ties

In 2021, China sanctioned five British members of Parliament who are critical of Beijing.

Chinese President XI Jinping

Britain's top diplomat, James Cleverly, is set to visit China on Wednesday, in the first trip by a U.K. foreign secretary to the country in more than five years. 

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed the long-awaited trip on Tuesday.

“The two sides will have in-depth communication on Sino-British relations and international and regional issues of common concern,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “We hope the British side will work with us to uphold the spirit of mutual respect, deepen exchanges, enhance mutual understanding and promote the stable development of Sino-British relations.”

Cleverly's visit is an attempt to stabilize China-Britain ties, which have sunk to their lowest level in decades. The countries disagree over issues such as Beijing's curbing of civil freedoms in Hong Kong, a former British colony, alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, China's support for Russia and Britain's close security ties with the United States.

Cleverly said in June he would raise issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong with the Chinese government and request that Beijing lift sanctions on British parliamentarians.

In 2021, China sanctioned five British members of Parliament who are critical of Beijing. They are barred from entering mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau and from doing business with Chinese citizens.

Cleverly was initially scheduled to travel to Beijing in July, but his trip was postponed, and his then-counterpart, Qin Gang, was later replaced with veteran diplomat Wang Yi. 

Besides highlighting human rights and security concerns, Cleverly is expected to explore potential areas of cooperation with China, such as climate change and trade.