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Liz Truss tonight urged Rishi Sunak to block China from joining an Indo-Pacific trade deal now that Britain has signed up.
The ex-prime minister warned her successor against Beijing becoming a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Ms Truss described the bloc as a ‘vital economic bulwark’ against China and said it was ‘essential’ to stop the country’s application to join from being approved.
Britain made its own formal application to join the CPTPP in early 2021 during Ms Truss’s tenure as international trade secretary.
Two years of negotiations have now borne results as UK membership was formally approved in the early hours of this morning to complete Britain’s biggest trade deal since Brexit.
Mr Sunak hailed the historic agreement for putting the UK ‘at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies’, with British membership boosting the bloc’s total GDP to £11trillion.
But the PM, who recently described China as an ‘epoch defining challenge’, is under pressure to also now utilise CPTPP as a counterweight to Beijing’s influence in the region.
Ms Truss said: ‘CPTPP is a vital economic bulwark against China and in due course I’d like to see like-minded free trading nations making their own applications to join.
‘It’s essential that any idea of Chinese accession is ruled out and I’d expect the British Government to oppose any such proposal.’
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, another former Tory leader and a fierce critic of Beijing, also urged Mr Sunak to prevent Chinese membership.
‘Now we are in CPTPP we should do our utmost to work with the others to veto China joining,’ he told Politico. ‘We should persuade the US to join as well.’
The 11 other current CPTPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
As well as China’s application, Taiwan, Ecuador and South Korea are also seeking to become members, while it has been suggested British membership could yet convince America to rejoin.
Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from what was then known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership soon after entering the White House in January 2017.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt this morning hinted that – as well as the economic benefits of CPTPP membership – UK foreign policy aims also played a role in signing up.
Asked whether China should be allowed to join, Mr Hunt told Sky News: ‘That’s a decision for all the members of that bloc and all I would say is that Britain now has a vote in deciding that.
‘And that shows our influence in this part of the world is becoming more significant.’