UK needs to do more to protect itself from China, says Sunak

The prime minister tells ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston that the UK will continue to defend Ukraine

The prime minister has warned that the UK needs to take the necessary steps to protect itself from the growing threat posed by China.

In an interview with ITV News at the summit of the G7 leaders of the big rich countries, Rishi Sunak said of China that "its behaviour is increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad."

China is "as an epoch defining systemic challenge", he said, repeating a warning he has given before, and "the only country with both the needs and the intention to reshape the global order".

He added "we need to make sure that we take the steps to protect ourselves against that in the UK."

He gave as an example that the government had "blocked Chinese investment in sensitive sectors like semiconductors".

ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston speaks to the Prime Minister at the G7 summit in Japan

Last night he had dinner here in Hiroshima with the Japanese premier, Fumio Kishida. Mr Sunak told me that the two of them had discussed how to limit what G7 leaders increasingly see as China's coercive economic and military policies, especially in the Asia Pacific Region.

It is thought that the conclusions of the summit will include a reference to preventing "any change to the status quo [in the Asia Pacific region] by force or coercion".

These were words Mr Sunak used when asked about China on Thursday, and are a message to China not to pursue its ambition to take control of Taiwan, either through direct military action or through blockading the island.

However in recent weeks there have been important tonal differences in leaders' comments on China, with the French President Emmanuel Macron more placatory than others.

This G7 will therefore be an important test of whether those leaders can adopt a united front that China interprets as meaningful.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during their bilateral meeting in Hiroshima ahead of the G7 Summit Credit: PA

Global dangers from authoritarian regimes, Russia as well as China, will dominate G7 discussions in the coming hours. As a pre-emptive move against Putin, the UK has today announced a new set of economic sanctions, including a prohibition on purchases of Russian diamonds.

"Russia needs to know that we're not going away," Mr Sunak told me, "that they can't just outlast us in this conflict, that we will continue to defend Ukraine".

He said it was "not just about the here and now" but "about putting in place the longer term security agreements that Ukraine needs so that it can protect itself against future aggression".

Against this backdrop of growing conflict between countries, I talked to Mr Sunak about the attempt by the National Conservatism "project" - supported by his cabinet colleagues Michael Gove and Suella Braverman - to reclaim and promote the idea of British nationalism.

Would Mr Sunak define himself as a nationalist, I asked him?

"Everyone will use different labels," he said. "I'll tell you how I feel about our country. I'm very proud of our country."

I pointed out that nationalism is often associated with a pernicious belief in national superiority, in contrast to patriotic love of country.

He replied: "I guess I think most people just feel very proud to be British. I certainly do. And I'm also keen to make sure that we continue to punch our weight on the global stage."

It was a non-answer, which shows quite how much his party is struggling, in these turbulent global times, to know where to draw the line between the narrow national interest and international solidarity.

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