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(Bloomberg) -- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss pledged to crack down on Chinese-owned companies such as social-media giant TikTok Inc. as she traded blows with Rishi Sunak in their first head-to-head debate of the race to succeed Boris Johnson as UK prime minister.
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“We absolutely should be cracking down on those types of companies,” Truss said Monday during the debate on BBC TV, when asked specifically about TikTok. “We should be limiting the amount of technology exports we do to authoritarian regimes.”
Truss’s comments on TikTok, the popular video-sharing app owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd, builds on Sunday’s back-and-forth between the two contenders on how to deal with China, with both politicians criticizing each other for their past approaches.
The pair are locked in a six-week runoff to replace Johnson as Conservative Party leader, and spent Monday attacking each other’s policy pledges. The Tory grassroots membership is set to select a winner, with the result due to be announced on Sept. 5.
The debate also touched on the economy, how to “level up” poorer regions in the UK and what role if any Johnson will serve in the next government.
Sunak, who previously served as chancellor, earlier described China as the “biggest long-term threat to Britain and the world’s economic and national security,” and promised to limit its influence in the UK.
Beijing Denounces Truss Vow to Crack Down on China Firms in UK
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized Truss’s remarks. He told a regular news briefing Tuesday in Beijing that China firmly opposes both Sunak and Truss’s comments related to the nation and said “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.”
Truss said Monday that as recently as a month ago, Sunak was pushing for closer trade relationships with China while serving as chancellor. She said the tougher stance was actually driven by her Foreign Office.
“I’m delighted that you’ve come round to my way of thinking,” Truss said. “Whether it’s taking the alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road with our G-7 colleagues, whether it’s being clear that Taiwan should be able to defend itself in the face of Chinese aggression -- we have led on that, and frankly, what we’ve heard from the Treasury is a desire for closer economic relations with China.”
Sunak countered, pointing to a time when Truss talked about having a “golden era” of relationships with China, with a desire for deeper collaboration on issues like food security and technology. He cited his work on the National Security and Investment Act, a law which came into force this year and enables the UK government to unpick or block deals deemed to be a national security risk.
But the former chancellor also said he and Truss share more views in common than disagreements, and on China it was clear that whoever becomes the next leader will temper the UK’s previous enthusiasm for links with the world’s most populous nation.
(Updates with China spokesman comments in seventh paragraph)
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