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China To Dominate Pompeo's Talks With British Officials


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in London today. And top of the agenda is China. He's meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt is covering it. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So China's the focus here for this meeting. What specifically is going to be discussed?

LANGFITT: Well, I think what they're going to look for - Mike Pompeo's going to want to find other ways that the U.K. and U.S. can work together to counter China. U.K.'s already done a lot. We've been talking about this on the air - most recently, just yesterday, suspended an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. This was because of a national security law that China was putting in Hong Kong that was sort of reducing - that will reduce political freedoms there.

There was a huge U-turn on Huawei, where the U.K. government decided to actually ban it from development of 5G. And attitudes here in Britain have been really hardening against China. Now we have parliamentarians talking about banning TikTok as a security threat, sanctioning officials in Xinjiang because the detention of Uighurs. And so I think what you're going to see also is Pompeo meeting with increasingly hard-line MPs here - members of Parliament - to try to put more pressure on China.

MARTIN: How is the Chinese government responding?

LANGFITT: Well, they're saying that, particularly on Hong Kong, they call this a blatant interference in China's internal affairs. And they're threatening other consequences, which could be targeting British companies. There was a really interesting exchange on the BBC yesterday where Liu Xiaoming - he's the ambassador here, the Chinese ambassador to London. And they showed him drone footage that appeared to be of hundreds of Uighurs prisoners out in Xinjiang, blindfolded, kneeling and bound, loaded into trains.

And, of course, the Chinese have been accused - and denied this - of running major detention camps out there. And Liu Xiaoming said he didn't know where these images came from, that any claims against the Chinese government in Xinjiang were fake and clearly sort of rejecting all the Western concerns about human rights in Xinjiang and throughout China.

MARTIN: So if we step back for a second, I mean, it wasn't long ago that the U.K. was courting China, right? Both countries were talking about this new era of relations. Was there something in particular that flipped this on its head?

LANGFITT: It's everything. It's Xinjiang. It's Huawei. And Hong Kong is the latest. And Hong Kong is particularly bitter for the Brits because they feel like they were tricked. They did a deal - this is, of course, a former British colony.


LANGFITT: They did a deal back in the '80s that said China would allow freedoms in Hong Kong for another 50 years, basically till, you know, close to 2050. The new security law changes all that. There's some other important historical context here, and that is that the British also - if you go back to the, you know, early 19th century, mid-19th century - they were able to take over Hong Kong in the first Opium War in which they were pushing opium into China. And China marks that as the beginning of their real decline globally. And they blame the Brits, in part, for that. So there's a lot of history here as well. And China now is much larger economically and has the upper hand.

MARTIN: And it's clearly being more assertive - right?


MARTIN: ...Than it has been in a very long time.

LANGFITT: It is. And what's interesting here is that it's actually backfiring. You see; the fact that they've made these various assertive policies - instead of getting the British politicians to be cowed by this, they're, in fact, now fighting back. So it's having the opposite effect, in many ways, of what Xi Jinping would want.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAPA'S "EMPTY SPACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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