Liz Truss branded China “the largest threat that we face to the free world” as she accused the UK along with other western countries of being “too dependent” on Beijing.
Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister – who was widely expected to adopt a more hawkish stance towards the nation during her premiership – warned against capitulating to “rhetorical bullying from authoritarian regimes”.
Appearing at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit ahead of a high-profile visit to Taiwan, Ms Truss said: “There’s no doubt that the entire western world including the United States, including Europe, including the UK, has become too dependent on China, and that’s a problem because it’s given China leverage over us, and it’s also a problem economically.
Ms Truss said the issue of Beijing was also “inherently linked” to the war in Ukraine, drawing parallels between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
And following a meeting between Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier on Monday, in which the Prime Minister stopped short of promising fighter jets for the country, Ms Truss renewed calls for the UK to provide warplanes.
Asked whether she thought the UK Government was doing enough to support Ukraine, she said: “I think we are sending extra long-range weapons – that is very welcome.
“I’ve said I want to see us sending fighter jets to Ukraine – I know we’re supplying training on that… but we’ve got to focus on Ukraine, we also need to focus on the threat from China.
“That is my message – that these things are inherently linked. If we take our eye off the ball on China, we’ll be facing a very, very serious problem down the road.”
During her time as prime minister Ms Truss was widely expected to move the UK Government on to a more hawkish footing when it came to dealings with Beijing, wanting to declare China under Communist Party rule a “threat” to national security.
However, her brief time in Downing Street — cut short to only 44 days after a disastrous market reaction to her mini-Budget — meant her update to the UK’s foreign policy position did not have time to materialise.
Instead, her successor Mr Sunak adopted less hard-line language, using the UK’s integrated review on foreign and defence policy in March to describe China as representing an “epoch-defining and systemic challenge”.
Ms Truss will meet Taiwanese government officials during her trip – an opportunity afforded to her by her newfound “freedom”, she said, as she would not have been able to do so as prime minister.
The visit comes during a sensitive time for relations between the West and and an increasingly assertive Beijing.