UK PM Race: Truss Would Not Arm or Visit Taiwan, Sunak Would Shake Saudi Prince’s Hand

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the Conservative MPs vying to replace Boris Johnson, undermined their tough posturing on foreign policy on Thursday.

In their latest debate on Sky News, in which Truss and Sunak did not actually go head to head but instead faced questions from a studio audience and hostess Kay Burley one after another, the Tory leadership hopefuls were grilled on how they would tackle issues surrounding Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

Burley grilled Truss, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, on her claims that Britain should have armed the Ukrainians earlier, asking if we “should arm Taiwan now” as Communist China, which claims the island, conducts aggressive live-fire “exercises” off its shores.

The Foreign Secretary attempted to avoid the question by answering in vague terms, mentioning the fact that Britain already has a “very secure a very secure control system… and we do licence exports to Taiwan at the moment, exports that are provided by the private sector.”

Pressed on whether “we should arm Taiwan or not” she again avoided the question, reiterating that the authorities already licence exports — clearly not the same thing as arming the island nation as has been done in Ukraine — but was finally pinned down on whether she saying the status quo was as far a Truss administration would go, to which she responded: “Yes, that is as far as we will go at this stage”.

Truss was also asked whether she, as Prime Minister, would follow the lead of Nancy Pelosi, the elderly Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States, by visiting Taiwan, to which she quickly responded that it was British policy that prime ministers, defence secretaries, and foreign secretaries do not travel there — for fear of angering Beijing — and that she would not change this.

Separately, she appeared to lie that she had ever said she supported Britons travelling to Ukraine to fight, claiming she had always said people should follow the official advice not to travel to Ukraine and that she merely supported the Ukrainian cause.

Sunak, meanwhile, who has previously been targeted by the Truss campaign for his apparent weakness on China — Communist Party mouthpiece The Global Times having gone so far as to effectively endorse him becoming Prime Minister due to his being “the one candidate with a pragmatic view of developing balanced ties with China” — was not taken to task on Taiwan, but was grilled on how he would approach relations with Saudi Arabia.

Burley asked the former Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he would follow U.S. President Joe Biden in offering a fist-bump to Saudi crown prince — controversial, given his alleged role in the violent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the Islamist kingdom’s habit of executing people for “crimes” like witchcraft and sorcery by such pre-medieval methods as stoning and public beheading.

Sunak attempted to dodge the question by joking that he was not “a fist-bumping type of person”, but pressed on whether he would shake the Saudi heir apparent’s hand he stammered: “I mean, I, uh, yes, I would shake his hand; I think, I generally share, I think you do have to engage with people around the world; I don’t think, uh, and we, and they’re a country that we have a relationship with” — rather undermining tough talk earlier in the interview on the question of his personal toughness and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

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