UK foreign secretary: Democracy in retreat around the world

LONDON — Democracy is “in retreat” globally and facing the greatest threat since the end of the Cold War, Britain’s Foreign Secretary said Wednesday in a keynote speech describing his country’s aspirations to be a leading world power post-Brexit.

Dominic Raab’s speech to the Aspen Security Forum in the U.S. sought to underline how Britain could be a “force for good” through its economic, military, diplomatic and cultural clout. The U.K. wants to be a “beacon of hope” in a world in which the combined GDP of autocratic regimes is expected to exceed that of democratic countries in the coming decade, Raab said.

But Raab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are beset with criticism for stating that Britain wants to keep pursuing trade links with China and other countries with poor human rights records.

On Tuesday, lawmakers criticized Johnson for being inconsistent and naïve after he said he wanted to work with Beijing to boost trade and address climate change — even as he acknowledged the threats China posed.

Raab was also under fire after the HuffPost website obtained a leaked recording of him telling staff at Britain’s Foreign Office that the U.K. intended to “trade liberally around the world,” including with countries that don’t meet international human rights standards.

“If we restrict it to countries with European Convention on Human Rights-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future,” he was heard saying in the message.

On Wednesday, Raab said “China is here to stay” as he defended his government’s stance toward Beijing. Britain has called out China for its crackdown on Hong Kong’s political freedoms and for abuses against the Uighur people in Xinjiang, he said.

“There are positives and we ought to look for the areas of constructive engagement — obviously in business and trade,” he said after his keynote speech. “Everyone is more or less doing trade with China.”

Britain’s government published a new foreign policy and defense review document Tuesday, outlining its desire for a much stronger influence in Asia. The review also paved the way for the U.K. to lift its own cap on its nuclear stockpile, reversing existing commitments for gradual nuclear disarmament.