Tory leadership race: Rishi Sunak promises to get tough on China as candidates trade blows over immigration
Rishi Sunak has promised to ban China’s controversial Confucius Institutes from the UK, labelling the country the “biggest-long term threat to Britain”.
The former chancellor made the pledge with Britain’s borders set to harden regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, with both Mr Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss trading blows over the best way to tackle illegal immigration.
The two candidates to replace Boris Johnson have spent the weekend hardening their approach to immigration in a bid for votes from Conservative members.
The SNP said the policies around migration were proof the change of Tory leader would ensure the “nasty party will just get nastier”.
Ms Truss and Mr Sunak appeared united on the need to toughen up UK policy on migrants, but the unity was short-lived with the foreign secretary’s questioning the credibility of her rival’s proposals.
Ms Truss has promised an expanded Border Force, while Mr Sunak has committed to an annual cap on the number of refugees coming to Britain.
Mr Sunak also announced plans to ban China’s Confucius Institutes from the UK in a move that would signal a major hardening of government policy against the foreign country.
The plans follow pressure from a vocal caucus of Tory backbenchers and would see the closure of the institute across Scottish universities, including Edinburgh.
In recent months Ms Truss has also taken an increasingly hardline approach on China in her role as foreign secretary.
This latest announcement will be seen as a move to firm up the former chancellor’s national security credentials, as he promises to close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK.
Funded by the Chinese Government, they are ostensibly culture and language centres, but critics have labelled them propaganda tools amid worsening relations between the West and China.
Mr Sunak accused China of “stealing our technology and infiltrating our universities”.
“Abroad, they are propping up [Vladimir] Putin’s fascist invasion of Ukraine by buying his oil and attempting to bully their neighbours, including Taiwan,” he said.
“They are saddling developing countries with insurmountable debt and using this to seize their assets or hold a diplomatic gun to their heads.
“They torture, detain and indoctrinate their own people, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, in contravention of their human rights. And they have continually rigged the global economy in their favour by suppressing their currency.”
With a pledge to lead the world in standing up to China so-called “technological aggression”, Mr Sunak said he would implement an amendment to the Higher Education Bill that would force British universities to disclose any foreign funding partnerships of more than £50,000.
He is also committing to a review of all UK-Chinese research partnerships which might assist China technologically or have military applications, as well as expanding MI5’s reach to provide greater support to British businesses and universities to counter alleged Chinese industrial espionage.
The leadership campaign has also seen both candidates re-commit to the Government’s controversial Rwanda asylum scheme, over which Britain stands to lose the £120 million it has paid to Rwanda if the plan to deport migrants is ruled unlawful by the courts.
Both candidates defended the policy, despite officials from the east African nation’s government confirming this week it had received the entire initial payment for the agreement signed in April and the funds are already “committed”, with some money spent on preparations for arrivals.
The first deportation flight was grounded in June after a series of legal challenges. Another attempt is yet to be scheduled.
The SNP’s Michelle Thomson criticised the stances of the two candidates, with the SNP labelling their migrant policies “disgusting”.
She said: “It seems a change of leader will mean the nasty party will just get nastier.
“As they compete for votes from their members, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are trying to outdo each other on who will do the least to help those violence, persecution and war. It’s disgusting, but sadly unsurprising.
“Here in Scotland we will continue to do all we can to welcome refugees from across the world, with open arms.
“It’s clear that independence is essential if we are to ensure a humane approach to refugees and asylum, and an immigration system that is tailored to Scotland’s needs.”
Ms Truss told the Mail On Sunday the Rwanda scheme is the “right” policy, and that it could be expanded to include other countries.
Expanding on comments made in an interview with the newspaper, the Truss campaign also said that as prime minister she would increase the UK’s frontline Border Force by 20 per cent and double the Border Force Maritime staffing levels.
Mr Sunak made a similar pledge on Rwanda, with his campaign promising to do “whatever it takes” for the scheme to succeed.
In her latest announcement, Ms Truss pledged to boost UK growth rates with “full-fat freeports” which would see brownfield sites and other locations turned into “investment zones”.
“As Prime Minister, I will be laser-focused on turbocharging business investment and delivering the economic growth our country desperately needs,” she said.
“We can’t carry on allowing Whitehall to pick the winners and losers, like we’ve seen with the current freeport model.”
The latest flagship policy from her campaign may also be seen as a bid to steal a march on Mr Sunak, who has been an advocate of freeports since his days as a backbench MP and has used the contest to style himself as the “common-sense Thatcherite” candidate.
Freeports became one of the flagship, post-Brexit policies for the Johnson Government, with several freeport locations announced by then-Chancellor Mr Sunak last year.
In a think-tank report in 2016, the then-junior Tory MP wrote: “Brexit will provide the UK with new economic freedom, and the Government should take the opportunity to create freeports across the nation.”
The first episode of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, is out now.
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