Liz Truss warned that a Cold War has already begun and that the West has to choose between appeasing Beijing or taking action to prevent war.
Ms Truss, the shortest-serving UK prime minister ever at just 44 days in office, is using a trip to Taiwan this week to address domestic political issues – in particular, pressing sitting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government to take a stronger stance against China.
“There are those who say they don’t want another Cold War,” Mr Truss said in a speech on Wednesday at the Prospect Foundation, a Taiwan think tank.
“But this is not a choice we are in a position to make. Because China has already embarked on a self-reliance drive, whether we want to decouple from their economy or not
“They have already made a choice about their strategy, The only choice we have is whether we appease and accommodate – or we take action to prevent conflict.”
Ms Truss represents hawkish views in the Conservative Party that opposes the Government’s approach to China, which favours engagement in some areas such as trade and climate change, while seeking curbs to protect against national security risks.
Many experts have highlighted that tackling climate change will require the involvement of China, the world’s largest source of carbon emissions.
In April, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a speech that completely decoupling and isolating China “would be a betrayal of our national interest and a wilful misunderstanding of the modern world.”
The Biden administration in the US has taken a similar approach to that of the current UK Government, seeking to corral China on areas that pose security risks while looking for common ground on issues of global impact.
But debate is raging amongst politicians in the UK and other Western nations over the level of appropriate engagement at a time when Chinese leader Xi Jinping has consolidated power.