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BEIJING: British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will visit China on Aug. 30, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Tuesday, in a long-awaited trip seeking to stabilise a turbulent relationship that has sunk to its lowest point in decades.

“The two sides will have in-depth exchanges on issues of concern,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin remarked when asked about the visit at a regular daily press briefing.

“We hope that the British side and the Chinese side will work together to uphold the spirit of mutual respect, have in-depth exchanges, enhance understanding, and push forward the stable development of Sino-British relations.”

Wang added that it is “in the common interest” of both nations’ people to develop bilateral relations. Cleverly was expected to visit China towards the end of July, but the trip never materialised and his then-counterpart Qin Gang was later replaced with veteran diplomat Wang Yi.

He would be the first British foreign secretary to visit China in five years, as relations soured during the COVID-19 pandemic over issues including Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and its treatment of Uyghur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

British foreign minister to visit China this month after delay

Cleverly will have separate meetings with his counterpart Wang Yi and Vice President Han Zheng, according to people familiar with his plans.

The UK government has taken a relatively hawkish approach to China, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declaring that Beijing poses the “biggest challenge of our age to global security and prosperity” in May. British newspaper The Times reported on Tuesday that Sunak was “open” to meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping at next week’s G20 summit in India.

Sunak is under increasing pressure from some lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party who are seeking to harden London’s policy on China, but the UK is also looking to shore up its diplomatic engagement and economic ties with China post-Brexit.

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