Rishi Sunak has said it was sensible to maintain engagement with Beijing because China was not on a “predetermined course” towards increased autocracy.
The Prime Minister said the UK was not “blind or naive” about the risks posed by China, but he suggested Xi Jinping could still change course.
Mr Sunak has come under pressure from senior Tories to take a tougher line on China.
“It is not just our economic security but our national security and sovereignty they are seeking to strategically undermine,” she warned.
Speaking to reporters in San Diego, Mr Sunak said “we don’t believe it’s on a predetermined course”, so “engagement is sensible and responsible”.
“But we can’t be blind or naive to the challenge it poses,” he said, pointing out action on removing Chinese surveillance technology, ending its role in nuclear power stations and the new National Protective Security Authority within MI5 helping businesses tackle spies.
“Those are all tangible things that will help protect ourselves. But there’s a role for engagement on those issues too.”
Mr Sunak has suggested China “presents an epoch-defining challenge to us and to the global order. It’s a regime that is increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad, and has a desire to reshape the world order”.
He said that “you can’t ignore China” given the size of the economy, so it was “necessary and right to try and engage with them”, claiming the UK was following a similar policy to its allies in engaging with Beijing