Tory leadership race: Sunak vows to get ‘tough on China’ and Truss pledges ‘full-fat freeports’ | Politics News

The Tory leadership race is in full flow as Rishi Sunak pledged to impose curbs on China, labelling it the “biggest-long term threat to Britain”, and Liz Truss promised to boost UK growth rates with “full-fat freeports”.

While the pair battled over tax cuts last week, and then tried to get one up on each other over tackling illegal immigration over the weekend, Mr Sunak has taken a different policy route this time.

The former chancellor has promised to close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK in a major hardening of government policy on China if he became PM.

The institutes are funded by the Chinese government and are meant to be culture and language centres, but critics claim they are propaganda tools as relations between the West and China worsen.

Politics Hub: Follow live updates on the Tory leadership race

Mr Sunak accused China of “stealing our technology and infiltrating our universities”, while “propping up Putin’s fascist invasion of Ukraine”, bullying Taiwan and contravening human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as suppressing their currency to “continually rig the global economy in their favour.

He also pledged to lead the world in standing up to China’s “technological aggression” by amending the Higher Education Bill to force British universities to disclose any foreign funding partnerships of more than £50,000.

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Mr Sunak has also committed to reviewing all UK-Chinese research partnerships that could 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 Chinese Communist Party pictured meeting in Beijing in November 2021. Image: AP
Mr Sunak has chosen to focus policies on Chinese influence

He said he would look at whether there is a need to prevent Chinese acquisitions of key British assets to address concerns about the scale of Chinese investment in key industries.

“I will stop China taking over our universities, and get British companies and public institutions the cyber-security they need,” he said.

“And I will work with President Biden and other world leaders to transform the West’s resilience to the threat China poses.”

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Sunak and Truss pitch to membership

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who backs Ms Truss and has been sanctioned by Beijing, said the “‘tough on China’ announcement is surprising” as he accused the Treasury, led by Mr Sunak, of pushing hard for an economic deal with China over the past two years despite its many faults.

A spokesman for Ms Truss said she had “strengthened Britain’s position on China” since becoming foreign secretary and “helped lead the international response to increased Chinese aggression”.

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Foreign Secretary Ms Truss, who continues to be more popular among Tory members, has promised to cut red tape and boost investment as part of her bid to defeat Mr Sunak.

Her latest campaign pledge would see brownfield sites and other locations being turned into “investment zones” – dubbed “full-fat free ports”.

The zones would have a low-tax burden, reduced planning restrictions and regulations tailored on a case-by-case basis.

“As prime minister, I will be laser-focused on turbocharging business investment and delivering the economic growth our country desperately needs,” Ms Truss said.

“We can’t carry on allowing Whitehall to pick the winners and losers; like we’ve seen with the current freeport model.”

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Truss and Sunak get tough on migration

The plan could be seen as an attempt to overshadow Mr Sunak, who has been a big supporter of free ports since he was a backbench MP. He has positioned himself in the contest as the “common-sense Thatcherite” candidate.

In a think-tank report in 2016, before he became a cabinet minister, he said: “Brexit will provide the UK with new economic freedom, and the government should take the opportunity to create free ports across the nation.”

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And in what could be viewed as an implicit criticism of the former chancellor’s record, Ms Truss said she would reform current government policy to “unleash the potential” of current free ports.

“By creating these new investment zones, we will finally prove to businesses that we’re committed to their futures and incentivise them to stimulate the investment that will help deliver for hardworking people,” she said.

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Rishi Sunak pulls a pint

‘Thatcherite cosplay’

Over the weekend, Mr Sunak revealed his 10-point plan to tackle illegal immigration, including placing a cap on refugee numbers each year.

Ms Truss said she would expand the Rwanda scheme to other countries. The scheme aims to send Channel migrants to the African country, but has failed so far due to legal challenges.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will use a speech in Liverpool on Monday to condemn the Conservative government’s record over the last decade and to hit out at the “Thatcherite cosplay” from Mr Sunak and Ms Truss.

He will say the priorities for the next Labour government will be “growth, growth, growth” and there will be “no magic money tree economics with us”.

Conservative leadership debate: be in the audience

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will take part in a head-to-head debate on Sky News on Thursday 4 August at 8pm hosted by Kay Burley.

If you would like to be a member of the live studio audience and be in with a chance of asking a question, please apply here.

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