WHEREAS Theresa May and Boris Johnson cantered to victory in 2016 and 2019, the Conservative leadership contest this time around has descended into chaos.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have sniped at each other on a number of policy areas, namely tax and their current attitude towards the current Prime Minister.
But one policy area has dramatically, and dangerously, hit the headlines in recent days – China.
It makes sense – Truss is (for now) Foreign Secretary and will likely boast her hawkish record of rhetoric on China and Russia.
Sunak, on the other hand, has some skeletons in his closet when it comes to relations with Beijing – according to his enemies, at least. As Chancellor, he was keen to pursue closer relations with the powerful nation.
Now, however, he will likely compensate further and aim to out-manoeuvre Truss.
While sensible and pragmatic to many, it’s a microcosm of what defines the two candidates – capitalist realism against an Iron Lady tribute act.
The two candidates must remember that this race is being seen all over the world – including, naturally, Beijing.
China has seen Russia’s relationship with the Western world deteriorate post-Ukraine invasion.
And while UK politicians were keen to push for a harder stance from the backbenches, it never quite made its way through to government.
There’s no doubt that Beijing should be pushed on a number of issues – human rights and territorial sovereignty, for example – but there also must be a focus on breaking down trade barriers in light of a global cost-of-living crisis.
China has already sent a warning shot to Truss over some of her comments during the race.
“I want to make it clear to certain British politicians that making irresponsible remarks about China, including hyping up the so-called China threat, cannot solve one’s own problems,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
Banding hawkish rhetoric about may win the hearts and votes of Conservative members, but the winner may have to field a few angry calls from Beijing on September 6.
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