Tugendhat voices support for India in China clash


MP Tom Tugendhat (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images).
MP Tom Tugendhat (Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images).

By Amit Roy

TORY MP Tom Tugendhat, chair­man of the influential foreign af­fairs select committee in the Com­mons, has emerged as one of the strongest supporters in British politics of India and Indians.

He spoke last week of backing India over its recent violent clash with China in the Galwan Valley, in which both Indian and Chinese soldiers were killed, and he also had this to say of the 2.5 million strong British Indian community: “We have a living bridge of very large diaspora community that is just as British as it is Indian.”

Tugendhat emphasised: “It’s absolutely an integral part of the modern United Kingdom to the extent that our chancellor (Rishi Sunak) is part of that community.

“The idea that they’re not British or fully part of the United Kingdom is absurd. Of course, they are. They are absolutely part of the United Kingdom. And the reality is that this demonstrates, I hope, a direction that we should all go in which is Britain stand­ing very, very close to India in matters of foreign policy.”

His comments come at a time when China has warned the UK not to “interfere” in Hong Kong and warned of “consequenc­es” if the deal to allow the Chinese tele­coms giant Huawei to build 35 per cent of Britain’s 5G network was cancelled. Prime minister Boris Johnson is under pressure from GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Cen­tre and some 60 Tory MPs to revoke the sensitive deal.

Tugendhat, 47, a Lt Col who served in Af­ghanistan with the British Army before be­coming a Tory MP in 2015, laid a wreath in Delhi in 2018 to Indian war dead in two world wars. Last year he pressed Theresa May, when she was prime minister, to offer a full apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massa­cre on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

His committee last year published a landmark report, Building Bridges: Re­awakening UK-India ties Contents, which concluded: “The UK is falling behind in the global race to engage with a rising India. Despite strong ties across investment, edu­cation and culture – and a shared commit­ment to democracy and to the rules-based international order – the relationship is not fulfilling its potential. India’s place in the world is changing fast, and UK strategy has not yet adjusted to this new reality. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is time to reset this relationship.”

Explaining what “reset” means, Tu­gendhat said last week: “We’re looking to reset the relationship with India to have a closer relationship because India is a rules-based nation with very strong principles of the rule of law. It’s a democracy and we have a very, very strong living bridge be­tween our nations.”

He said after the clash in Galwan Valley, the foreign office in London should have issued a stronger condemnation of China.

Instead, the foreign office statement had been disappointingly neutral when it had stated: “Clearly these are concerning re­ports and we continue to monitor the situ­ation closely. We encourage China and In­dia to engage in dialogue on issues relating to the border – the UK wants to see a peaceful resolution to the current situa­tion. We offer our condolences to the fami­lies of those killed.”

Tugendhat said: “Bluntly, I think the statement was too nuanced. I would have been clearer in standing up alongside a long standing ally, partner and friend, India, which has been so outrageously attacked by China, so I have to say I think that was the wrong decision (by the foreign office).”

He went on: “Our strategic partnership lies with free and democratic countries and none more than with India. We don’t only share history, some, some good, some bad, we do share a very deep history with India.”

Asked what kind of relationship India should forge with China, Tugendhat re­plied: “I’m not going to lecture India in any way, but I hope that India will be a more active member of the rules-based na­tions around the world and be more par­ticipatory in so many of the elements important in keeping us safe, whether that’s an in­creased diplomatic presence – I would hope that India’s voice is heard more loudly and more clearly around the world – or whether it’s India taking a more active role in some of the operations in the seas that keep navi­gation free. All of these things I would welcome hugely and I’m a pas­sionate advocate for India to have a permanent seat in the Se­curity Council.”

Meanwhile, the British gov­ernment has of­fered sanctuary to nearly 3 mil­lion people in Hong Kong with “British National Over­seas” status.

Tugendhat underlined its significance: “The reality is that Hong Kong is not simply a geogra­phy, it’s an entire operating system based on the skills and the experi­ence of the people. So removing the peo­ple fundamentally un­dermines the economy in a real sense.”

A survey conducted by his committee had revealed that two thirds of the British people were willing to accept those who chose to leave Hong Kong.

Reminded that British public opinion and especially the Tory Party were hostile to the idea of admitting 30,000 Ugandan Asians with British passports in 1972 – only Edward Heath, then prime minister, took a principled stand – Tugendhat said: “I think Britain is a different country.”

In marked contrast to India, “with China we are trying to work in a reset in the other direction which is to say, look at there is real friction here, there is real tension here. The Chinese Communist Party is aiming at undermining the international principles that have kept Britain and indeed many other countries safe and prosperous for the best part of seven decades.

“We are returning to a relationship that reduces our dependency, that not only al­lows us to remain engaged but also recog­nises that dependency on a nation that does not share the rule of law as an es­sential element of its constitution is a huge vulnerability.”

As for the recent India-China clash, he said: “There are lessons for China and for India. There are lessons for every­body. There’s a real tragedy here and we’re seeing it all over the place that China is beginning to push in ways that’s completely unacceptable and the Galwan Valley is one example. But it is only one. There are many others.”

With India, “we have such overlaps of interest that we should deepen that – I’m very, very keen that we do more together. The UK should be standing in defence of the international rules based system and partners who share democracy and com­mon history. We need to be very clear standing up for those values and few coun­tries express them better than India.”