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Bob Seely said the pandemic should mark the moment when the UK “gets serious” about the Asian giant’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy.
China has faced criticism for hampering the global response to the virus by allegedly being dishonest about its spread and failing to contain it in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan in December.
Seely told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast it should be the moment Britain becomes more hawkish on China, much like it did with Russia following the Salisbury poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Following the novichok poisoning, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats.
I call it China’s Skripal moment, the bit where we all get serious and realise what’s happening, but Chernobyl is a good analogy as well
And Seely, who helps coordinate a group of more than 55 Tory MPs opposed to Chinese telecoms firm Huawei’s involvement in UK 5G infrastructure, said it was time for the government to take a similar approach to China.
Asked if this was China’s Chernobyl moment, Seely said: “I call it China’s Skripal moment, the bit where we all get serious and realise what’s happening, but Chernobyl is a good analogy as well.
“As regards Russia, the world was changing and it took us time to adjust to it.
“We’ve taken a lot for granted and I think with China we have to get wise.
“When it comes to Huawei, when it comes to the Covid crisis, when it comes to lots of things.
“We need to take a not-more-hawkish, but actually more realistic view of what China is doing.
“It is setting out to have more global strategic dominance in many areas, it does see this in a very Darwinian sense of being a struggle with the West, and I think we need a more assertive approach on our side that protects our interests, our economy and our technology and our security much better.
“And arguably that’s better for China in the long-term as well, because if it can push and be aggressive and get stuff from us and there’s no payback then it will continue to do that.
“We are almost encouraging Chinese authoritarianism by our unassertive approach to them and I do think we need to work with other people to really change that dynamic.”
He added: “It took the Skripal poisoning, the shooting down of an airliner and a big war in eastern Europe for us to get serious about Russia.
“This was not rocket science – a lot of people were seeing that and saying it before.
“Likewise with China, this wolf warrior diplomacy – China’s much more aggressive, much more hostile stance, the relentless cyber attacks, the malign influence, all this stuff has been happening for years and we’re basically pretending not to notice.
“And now the pandemic as well.”
The Isle of Wight MP also called for the creation of a national strategy council to sit alongside the “very reactive” national security council and identify long-term emerging threats.
It is “quite clear” that the UK failed to learn from Asian countries like South Korea’s test and trace response to Covid-19 “because pandemics were stuff that happened to people in Asia and it didn’t happen to us”, he said.
Seely also called for Sir Mark Sedwill to be stripped of one of his so-called “two hats” roles, as both national security adviser and the head of the civil service as cabinet secretary.
It emerged on Thursday that Sedwill had coronavirus at the same time as Boris Johnson, which Downing Street did not disclose at the time..
“Clearly the national security adviser should not be the head of the civil service, as is currently the case, and that’s completely wrong,” Seely said.
“What Sir Mark Sedwill is doing, doing both jobs, heaven only knows.
“We need a strategy council that looks 10 to 15 years ahead.
“We don’t have that at the moment and this proves the need for one massively.”