NEW DELHI: The UK on Thursday said some actions by China have created challenges around the world even as it welcomed efforts to de-escalate tension in eastern Ladakh by New Delhi and Beijing.
At an online media briefing, UK High Commissioner Sir Philip Barton referred to China’s imposition of a controversial security law in Hong Kong, the “tragic loss” of lives of Indian soldiers in Galwan Valley clashes and cases of human rights abuses by China against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. At the same time, he said the UK hopes for constructive engagement with China.
“There are challenges around the world on all sorts of Chinese actions; for us Hong Kong particularly is a focus. Clearly for India the LAC (Line of Actual Control) is a particular focus. These are concerning things,” he said.
“We are clear sighted about the challenges China posed in the region as well as around the world. The UK wants to work with China. We hope for positive and constructive engagement and strive for that… But there are challenges for us. Hong Kong is a particular challenge,” Sir Barton said.
The ties between the UK and China came under severe strain after Beijing imposed the new security law in Hong Kong. The UK maintains that the law undermined the Joint Declaration under which Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.
The envoy indicated that it is going to work with its allies like the US to deal with challenging situations.
“Yes we do collaborate with people who have a common and shared interest with us including in relations to actions by countries that are against our interests,” Sir Barton said, when asked about China’s aggressive behavior in eastern Ladakh, Hong Kong and South China Sea.
On India’s border row with China, the envoy hoped both sides will be able to de-escalate tension through talks.
“Our hope would be that there can be de-escalation, and tensions do seem to have eased over the last week or two after the tragic loss of lives and our condolences to the Indian personnel who lost their lives,” Sir Barton added.
Twenty Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15, triggering massive escalation of tensions between the two sides.
However, both sides agreed to de-escalate tension by withdrawing troops from friction points following a series of diplomatic and military talks.
“I would like to say that the progress we have seen in managing the tensions and the commitment the two special representatives made on boundary question on July 5 to disengage and de-escalate is welcome,” the newly-appointed envoy said.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held nearly two-hour-long telephonic conversation on July 5 to bring down tension between armies of the two countries in eastern Ladakh. Both sides began a limited disengagement process from the next day.
Doval and Wang are Special Representatives for the boundary talks.
On ties with India, Sir Barton said the trade ministers of India and the UK will hold talks on Friday to explore ways to expand trade and economic engagements.
“I am optimistic that now we left the European Union, we really can invigorate our commercial relations,” he said.
On whether the UK was looking at firming up a free trade agreement with India, the British high commissioner said: “Both sides will discuss issues related to deepening of trade and business ties. Both sides will talk on trade barriers, more investments.”
Asked whether India’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self reliant India) initiative is a protectionist move, he said, he did not believe so. “I do not see a particular challenge. In fact it is quite the opposite. They seem to be reaching out and welcoming (foreign investment).”
Replying to a question on activities by Sikh separatist group ‘Sikhs for Justice’ in the UK, the envoy said the UK believe in freedom of protest and freedom of expression, but actions will be taken if anyone violates the law.