Former British prime minister Liz Truss warns about ‘rise of totalitarian China’

Tokyo conference hears that view of ‘benign’ China constitutes a dangerous and misplaced global assumption

Ex-British PM Liz Truss has used her first major speech abroad since quitting the post to urge the world towards stemming “the rise of totalitarian China”.

Mr Truss told a conference in Tokyo on Friday that democracy was in danger from authoritarian regimes “which are building up their armaments, as they build up their arguments … to try and influence the global world order”.

The conference was organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (Ipac), a group of politicians from “democratic states” who say they are co-ordinating a united response to the rise of China. Ipac’s Irish members include Senators Michael McDowell and Mary Seery Kearney. Its co-chairmen include Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne and Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward.

Ms Truss added a note of regret, saying Britain was ”naive” to roll out the red carpet for Chinese president Xi Jinping during a 2015 state visit. “Looking back, I think this sent the wrong message.”


Ms Truss quit after just 44 days in office last year, the shortest tenure of any British prime ministe. Critics say her speech was a Churchillian bid to outflank her successor Rishi Sunak from the right by indirectly accusing him of being “soft” on China.

Former Australian prime minister Scott Morrison told the same conference that appeasement of China in the hope it would democratise has failed. “The benign and accommodating view of China has proved to be, arguably, the most misplaced assumption in international relations since Neville Chamberlain proclaimed ‘peace in our time’ on his return from Munich in 1938,” he said.

‘Ambitious narrative’

Mr Morrison said China’s dream of returning to its “rightful place as the hegemon of Asia”, requires the full incorporation of Hong Kong and the reunification of Taiwan within China, “by force if necessary. We should not underestimate the appeal this ambitious narrative has with the Chinese population.”

“President Xi’s stated aim is to be able to fight and win wars and project force,” he added, citing China’s annual military budget of $260 billion (€245 billion), 15 nuclear submarines and a growing fleet of combat fighters and bombers. “At the end of 2022 China had 400 operational nuclear warheads and is likely to have 1400 by 2035,” he predicted.

The symposium heard the testimony of human rights abuses in China, including the harvesting and sale of human organs abroad and the use of slave labour to produce solar panels and other products. Among the other speakers was former prime minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt and several Japanese parliamentarians.

‘Cruel competition’

Mr Verhofstadt said that since 2012 the world had entered a dangerous new era “dominated by cruel competition not between individual nations, but between big blocs: China, the US, India, Russia”.

Ms Truss called for what she referred to as an “economic Nato” of like-minded democracies to counter China’s economic “bullying”. Her call to upgrade Taiwan’s diplomatic status and for a package of co-ordinated sanctions against China “in the event of further military escalation around Taiwan” will infuriate Beijing.

The former UK leader said that since it was the free world which enabled China’s rise, “it must be the free world which challenges its economic dominance before it’s too late”.

David McNeill

David McNeill

David McNeill, a contributor to The Irish Times, is based in Tokyo