The Prime Minister has appointed the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss as Foreign Secretary, meaning that there’s a new top team in government handling the UK’s political-economic relationship with China; the former Secretary of State for International Development,
the Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan, moves to head up to the Department for International Trade
Ms Truss has become the UK’s second female foreign secretary, following Labour’s Margaret Beckett 15 years ago. Her appointment means that women now hold the three most senior roles from the British government’s side in UK-China relations; Dame Caroline Wilson is the current British Ambassador in Beijing.
The new Secretary of State has plenty of diplomatic experience under her belt, especially in and around the Asia-Pacific region, having led negotiations with Japan over the UK-Japan Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and in preparing the UK to accede to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). With regard to how she might bring this experience to her new role, The Times is not alone in highlighting Ms Truss’ belief that “economic diplomacy” is the best way for the UK to thrive outside of the European Union.
How her conviction in “economic diplomacy” will find application in China is unclear. When commentating on China’s trade practices as Secretary of State for International Trade, Ms Truss took a hard line on China, telling parliament’s International Trade Committee in May that “[The UK and its allies] have been too soft on China’s unfair trade practices for too long.”
According to reports, Ms Truss has been engaging her counterparts in the G7 on a series of ‘Trade Track’ talks since June’s summit in Cornwall to form a choir within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that can collectively call out the unfair trade practices that she accuses China of.
It’s unclear whether China will find an ally in the new Secretary of State for International Trade, either. However, some analysts suggest that Mrs Trevelyan will be considered a welcome fresh face by China’s trade officials, who reportedly felt that the UK-China trade relationship had stalled.