David Cameron is expected to meet his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, this weekend for the first time since becoming British foreign secretary.
The Foreign Office has pencilled in a meeting between Cameron and Wang at the Munich security conference, according to two government sources.
It would be the first time Cameron has met a Chinese minister since his surprise appointment to Rishi Sunak’s cabinet in November last year.
Cameron has come under pressure over his links to China since becoming foreign secretary, and he faces calls to raise human rights and national security concerns at his meeting with Wang.
Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government for criticising its human rights record, said: “David Cameron should raise the issue of the genocide of the Uyghurs, slave labour in non-Han Chinese ethnic groups such as the Tibetans, the appalling treatment of British citizen Jimmy Lai and the use of torture in gaining prosecution evidence.”
“He should also call for the sanctions imposed on British parliamentarians to be rescinded.”
Luke de Pulford, the executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: “The Foreign Office has been slow to realise that when Beijing says it wants win-win diplomacy, it means China wins twice.
“Cameron needs to show that the blinkers are off, and raise British citizen Jimmy Lai’s show trial, Beijing’s support for Putin’s war, and anti-Uyghur atrocities in Xinjiang, which flood the UK market with slavery-tainted goods.”
The trial of the British citizen and newspaper founder Jimmy Lai, who has been charged in Hong Kong with colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security, is being closely watched amid concerns about the growing influence of Beijing in the former British colony.
Cameron publicly called for an end to Lai’s “politically motivated prosecution” in a statement on 17 December, saying: “As a prominent and outspoken journalist and publisher, Jimmy Lai has been targeted in a clear attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.”
Separately, Cameron has used interviews to stress the importance of engagement with China. As prime minister he heralded a “golden era” in relations with the country and hosted a state visit for President Xi Jinping in 2015.
After leaving No 10 in 2016, he was involved in setting up a $1bn UK-China investment fund, which aimed to boost UK involvement in the belt and road initiative, Beijing’s flagship foreign policy aimed at extending its trade and military influence globally.
Cameron met Xi for dinner in 2018 and discussed the $1bn fund. It was eventually wound up as relations between London and Beijing soured.
Last autumn, weeks before he was made foreign secretary, Cameron was paid to fly to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and drum up foreign investment in a controversial Chinese-funded port city in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Critics have branded the development an example of Chinese debt-trap diplomacy.
There was criticism when Cameron’s first published register of interests in the House of Lords made no mention of Port City Colombo or the $1bn UK-China fund. His office has insisted that his involvement with Port City Colombo was organised entirely via the Washington Speakers Bureau.
UK-China relations have deteriorated since 2018 after Beijing’s crackdown on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, concerns about human rights abuses against the Uyghur community in Xinjiang and national security worries about Chinese involvement in UK critical infrastructure.
Cameron spoke to Wang on the phone on 5 December and agreed to have a “constructive relationship”. In a post on X at the time, Cameron said: “The UK will continue to engage with China where it furthers our interests.”
The Foreign Office declined to comment and said that Cameron’s bilateral meetings would be confirmed in the usual way.