Boris Johnson offers China president Xi Jinping 'sympathy and support' over coronavirus outbreak

Andrew Woodcock
Chinese President Xi jinping speaks during a meeting with Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization: REUTERS

Boris Johnson has spoken by phone with China’s president Xi Jinping, a fortnight after the country’s ambassador in London complained that there had been no direct contact from the prime minister over the coronavirus outbreak.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming voiced his concern about the lack of a personal message of support to the PM’s father Stanley Johnson when they met to discuss environmental issues earlier this month.

And Johnson Sr inadvertently made the complaint public when he accidentally included a BBC reporter on the mailing list for an email relaying the ambassador’s comments to officials.

Downing Street said that in this morning’s call, the PM offered his sympathies for the affected by the outbreak of the novel virus in China, and president Xi thanked him for the UK’s support and the donation of medical equipment.

“The prime minister and president agreed on the importance of the UK-China relationship and resolved to work together across a range of issues including strengthening the economic partnership, to benefit the people of both China and the UK,” said a No 10 spokesman.

Ahead of November’s COP26 United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow and the Convention on Biological Diversity Summit in China, the two leaders “resolved to work closely together on the issue of climate change”, said Downing Street.

“They agreed that biodiversity and climate change are two sides of the same coin and must be addressed in tandem if we’re to protect the planet for future generations.”

In his email following his meeting with the ambassador, Stanley Johnson said: “Re the outbreak of coronavirus, Mr Liu obviously was concerned that there had not yet – so he asserted – been direct contact between the PM and Chinese head of state or government in terms of a personal message or telephone call.”

At the time, Downing Street insisted that the UK had been working closely with China ever since the beginning of the outbreak, pointing to recent calls by foreign secretary Dominic Raab and national security adviser Mark Sedwill.