A former Tory leader has condemned Rishi Sunak’s approach to China after a parliamentary researcher was accused of spying for Beijing.
Iain Duncan Smith hit out after the prime minister confronted the Chinese premier over the reports.
According to The Sunday Times, the researcher - who has links to several senior Conservative MPs - was arrested under the Official Secrets Act.
Speaking at the G20 summit in New Delhi, Sunak said that he expressed “very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable” when he met Chinese premier Li Qiang.
He said: “We discussed a range of things and I raised areas where there are disagreements.
“And this is just part of our strategy to protect ourselves, protect our values and our interests, to align our approach to China with that of our allies like America, Australia, Canada, Japan and others, but also to engage where it makes sense.”
Sunak said that approach was better than “shouting from the sidelines”.
The PM has been criticised by Duncan Smith, among others, for his policy of engagement with China and for downgrading the government’s description of the country from a “systemic threat” to an “epoch-defining challenge”.
Speaking on Times Radio, Duncan Smith said: “Frankly the government, the British government and this establishment is so desperately thinking about China as a business problem, they fail to realise how dangerously threatening China really is becoming.”
Asked about Sunak holding talks with the Chinese premier at the G20, he said: “I don’t think it’s a dialogue. I think it’s a kind of pathetic monologue.
“What’s actually going on is China is ignoring much of what we say. And I bet you anything that the prime minister, the Chinese prime minister that he spoke to, will just deny it and say nothing happened. That’s what they do all the time ... China doesn’t give a damn.”
Duncan Smith said the spying allegations also showed the need for parliamentary security to be toughened up.
He said: “There are big questions to be asked about parliamentary security, about the vetting of people who work for different groups that are made up of parliamentarians.
“I think we are deeply penetrated by the Chinese because of our ambivalent attitude towards them. Therefore, people tend to turn a blind eye.”