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China has created challenges across the world, UK watching LAC situation: British envoy

China’s actions around the globe, including imposing a national security law in Hong Kong and the border standoff with India, are a challenge for the world community and Britain will work with partners to call out violations of international law, UK high commissioner Philip Barton said on Thursday.

Following its exit from the European Union (EU), the UK will focus on healthcare, a long-term agenda for green growth and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and trade and investment while strengthening its ties with India, Barton said during his first news briefing after presenting his credentials.

“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,” he said.

“These are concerning things and 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,” he said, referring to the death of 20 Indian soldiers in a clash with Chinese forces along the LAC on June 15.

Barton welcomed progress by India and China in managing tensions and the commitment by the two Special Representatives on the border issue to disengage and de-escalate. “I hope we’re not about to see a change in that,” he said.

Britain, he said, has its own concerns about a range of Chinese actions and has decided to remove Chinese technology giant Huawei’s equipment from all its telecommunications networks by 2027 because of concerns highlighted by the UK National Cyber Security Centre.

“We don’t have a border with China but we have particular responsibilities for Hong Kong and the new national security law which China has imposed there, we see this as a very clear and serious violation of the UK-China joint declaration,” he said, referring to the agreement that laid out the administrative arrangement for Hong Kong when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.

“We are very clear sighted about the challenges China presents in the region and around the world. We in the UK want to work with China and hope for positive, constructive engagement and strive for that…We welcome all partners who join us in calling out what is a serious violation of the UK-China joint declaration…,” Barton said.

The UK also has “grave concerns” about human rights abuses, particularly against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, he added. Pointing specifically to Huawei’s role in 5G, he said the UK and India can work together to resolve such “wider global issues” and to diversify markets.

Asked about the activities in UK of Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), a pro-Khalistan group banned by India, Barton declined to go into details but said Britain would act if any of its laws were violated.

“In the UK, you have the right to protest and the right to freedom of speech is there but there are limits to it. Where people clearly break the law, we will take action. We have a dialogue with the Indian government across a range of issues of mutual interest and extremism of all kinds is one of those,” he said.

Barton said there was no inconsistency between the Indian government projecting the country as an open destination for trade and investment while also working for self-reliance through the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiative. The two countries, he said, can work on making critical supply chains more resilient.

“It’s perfectly possible for India to be an open trading economy and open to investments and international cooperation while also pursuing the [Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative] and wanting to manufacture in India and wanting to build manufacturing and other capacities and capability…I don’t see any inconsistency,” he said.

Barton, a career diplomat with long experience of South Asia and India, advised the need for caution while responding to questions about the two countries cooperating on Covid-19 vaccines, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca backed vaccine that has shown encouraging results.

He said it wasn’t known for certain if any of the vaccines would work, and the world community needs to keep backing a suite of potential vaccines till research reaches a stage where experts can be confident. Distribution of any successful vaccine would also be based on the ability of countries to pay for it and those needing subsidies, he added.

India’s “fantastic vaccine capability” and the tie-up between the Serum Institute of India and AstraZeneca represent a “clear partnership with India” in this field, Barton said.

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