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Good morning. James Cleverly is the highest-ranking British minister to visit Beijing since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Ahead of the trip, he gave an interview with George Parker about the UK’s China policy. Some thoughts on the internal Conservative consequences of that in today’s note.
Cleverly does it
Is James Cleverly this year’s Rishi Sunak? The Braintree MP is foreign secretary for two reasons: 1) he was a loyal and committed ally of Liz Truss in her successful bid for the Conservative leadership 2) after being appointed as foreign secretary by Truss, he acquitted himself well in the role, which made him a natural and pain-free choice for Sunak as an appointment that would bring together the Tory party’s warring factions.
Truss was, among other things, a committed Sinosceptic. She did not favour engagement with China and has, since leaving office, continued to advocate for categorising China as a “threat” to UK security. Cleverly, however, has charted a more pragmatic course as foreign secretary — one much closer to that of his new boss, Sunak. The latest example of that is a robust interview with George Parker, in which he rounds on the Tory party’s China hawks.
This is similar to Sunak’s rise to prominence: he was appointed as chancellor because Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings confused his politeness for pliability. Very quickly, he established himself as the major internal block to Johnson’s high-spending instincts. Truss’s premiership did not last long enough for Cleverly’s time at the Foreign Office to do the same. But just as Sunak came to embody the clash between the Conservative party’s fantasies and the cold hard realities of balancing the books, Cleverly has come to embody the clash between the Conservative party’s China hawks and political reality. Some MPs have called out “confusion” about the UK approach, and a cross-party House of Commons foreign affairs committee urged today for the government to flesh out what it deems an “elusive China strategy”.
The interesting question is whether Cleverly — who in my view represents the Tory party’s best available leadership candidate should Sunak fail to win the next election — ends up, as Sunak was, being persona non grata among Tory members owing to his heresies.
Now try this
This week, I mostly listened to Bob Dylan’s 1989 album Oh Mercy while writing my column on why we should not overlook the powers of locally produced cinema and TV in shaping global perceptions.
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