Sunak’s meeting with Xi Jinping cancelled as G20 leaders discuss Poland missile strike

PM’s talks with Chinese president postponed after missile strike near Poland’s border with Ukraine

A bilateral meeting between the UK and China at the G20 summit – billed as the first such talks between the countries in five years – has been cancelled because of emergency meetings among world leaders in the aftermath of a missile strike in Nato-member Poland near the border with Ukraine.

Downing Street said there were “movements with timings on both sides” that led to the cancellation of the meeting, but said Sunak had wanted it to go ahead. “The prime minister obviously thinks it is still important to have that conversation with President Xi,” his spokesperson said.

It means a British prime minister has not spoken to the Chinese president by phone for more than 18 months and not had a face to face meeting since early 2018. Theresa May visited China for a three-day trade visit in January 2018 and Boris Johnson spoke to Xi during the Covid pandemic in March 2021.

Sunak is understood to have been keen for the meeting to take place. Officials suggested the talks would have had broad aims to find areas where the UK and China could start to make progress, including on energy security and the climate crisis, as well as encouraging Beijing to play a more active role on Russia and Ukraine.

Downing Street said a wave of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine on Tuesday was a further demonstration “of contempt Russia has for the international order”. But it said the facts were “still being established” about what happened with the missile in Poland.

Instead, Sunak and the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, will speak to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in the mid-afternoon UK time. It comes after the US president, Joe Biden, said the missile that landed in Poland, killing two people, was unlikely to have been fired from Russia because of its trajectory.

Sunak’s proposed meting with Xi had raised the hackles of a vocal group of Conservative MPs sounding alarm bells about China’s actions – many of them under Chinese sanctions – who have been pushing for China to be designated a formal “threat”.

Among those to have had Chinese sanctions imposed upon them are Sunak’s security minister, Tom Tugendhat, the science minister Nus Ghani, the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Alicia Kearns.

Duncan Smith said the change of approach was “drifting into appeasement” and Xi would take the rapprochement as a sign of weakness. “I am worried that the present prime minister, when he meets Xi Jinping, will be perceived as weak because it now looks like we’re drifting into appeasement with China, which is a disaster as it was in the 1930s and so it will be now,” he said.

Bob Seely, a Tory MP and member of the Inter-parliamentary Alliance on China, said: “Of course we need to talk to nations, especially those that may challenge our values and stability, but it is dangerous to normalise relations when they are not normal. We need to have an honest conversation.”

The former minister Tim Loughton, who is also under sanctions imposed by China, said Sunak must put the treatment of the seven MPs “at the top of his agenda” and added: “China may be a long way off being our ally but it helps no one if they carry on acting as an enemy of the west.”

In a clip filmed with Trudeau, Sunak said they were both “particularly disturbed by the continued barbaric activity of Russia in bombarding the Ukrainian people in their civilian infrastructure. We spoke to the foreign minister of Ukraine earlier today to express our sympathies about that and continue to offer support to Ukraine.”

The prime minister was woken up at 5am Balinese time to be briefed on the incident in Poland, speaking shortly afterwards to his defence and foreign secretaries and to Poland’s president, Andrezj Duda, at about 7pm.

Sunak also held a bilateral meeting with Biden, the first time the pair have formally met. No 10 said that, unusually, they did not discuss a US-UK trade deal, a further hint that Sunak is taking a slower approach to trade having already hinted he wants thoroughly to review work on the trade deal with India.

Both Biden and Sunak spoke about the global economic challenges as well as Biden saying he was keen to see progress on the Northern Ireland protocol. Biden is understood to have said he believed the prime minister also wanted to see a resolution with the EU as soon as possible.

Sunak is scheduled to go ahead with meetings on Wednesday with the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, and Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese


Jessica Elgot in Bali and Aletha Adu

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hinkley row could overshadow May's G20 meeting with Xi Jinping
Prime minister, who has delayed approval of China’s involvement in Hinkley Point C, will meet Chinese president at summit

Rowena Mason and Terry Macalister

03, Sep, 2016 @9:58 AM

Article image
Rishi Sunak calls China ‘systemic challenge’, in sign of softer UK stance
PM’s remarks at G20 summit suggest shift away from Liz Truss pledge to redesignate Beijing as a ‘threat’

Jessica Elgot in Bali

15, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Steel dumping not on agenda as Theresa May meets Xi Jinping
UK prime minister does not raise concerns about overproduction of steel in first meeting with Chinese president

Rowena Mason in Hangzhou

05, Sep, 2016 @6:15 PM

Article image
UK to boost defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, Sunak says
PM pledges to put arms industry on ‘war footing’ with plan to raise defence budget to £87bn a year by 2030

Pippa Crerar in Warsaw

23, Apr, 2024 @1:47 PM

Article image
Peers and MPs pledge to block Sunak’s Rwanda plan as Braverman labels it ‘magical thinking’
Fast-track bill, following supreme court ruling barring deportation flights, “will be wildly unpopular legislation” says Tory peer

Peter Walker and Rajeev Syal

16, Nov, 2023 @10:01 PM

Article image
Five key takeaways from Biden and Xi’s first meeting as leaders
Taiwan, trade, Ukraine and the climate crisis among issues discussed when presidents of US and China met

Verna Yu and Oliver Holmes

14, Nov, 2022 @6:35 PM

Article image
Xi Jinping state visit: UK and China sign cybersecurity pact
After talks with Xi Jinping in Downing Street, David Cameron hails greater cooperation along with trade deals including nuclear power investment

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

21, Oct, 2015 @4:13 PM

Article image
UK-India trade deal ‘not guaranteed’, says Sunak before Modi meeting
PM’s crunch meeting with Indian counterpart at G20 hoped to smooth way for free trade deal

Kiran Stacey Political correspondent

08, Sep, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Five key takeaways from the G20 meeting in Bali
From Xi Jinping’s first international appearance in three years to leaders snubbing Russia, here are the significant moments

Justin McCurry

16, Nov, 2022 @3:53 PM

Article image
Theresa May presses Xi Jinping on plastic waste at Beijing talks
UK prime minister tells China’s president they have ‘collective responsibility’ to do more

Jessica Elgot in Beijing

01, Feb, 2018 @5:08 PM