Boris Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak, according to reports.
The plans, which have been code named “Project Defend”, include identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a broader new approach to national security, The Times reported, adding that the efforts are being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Two working groups have been set up as part of the project, according to the report, with one source telling The Times that the aim was to diversify supply lines to no longer depend on individual countries for non-food essentials.
Mr Johnson told lawmakers he would take steps to protect Britain’s technological base, with the government review also expected to include personal protective equipment and drugs, the report added.
The UK is strategically dependent on China for a number of critical goods. These include pharmaceutical ingredients needed to make painkillers, antibiotics and antiviral drugs. Britain relies on China for 50 per cent of these supplies. Other important goods are industrial chemicals, metals and electronics.
Workers unload a shipment of 120,000 surgical coveralls from China for NHS workers – GETTY IMAGES
It comes after President Macron of France and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, called on Monday for greater EU sovereignty on key goods including medical products.
The Government told The Times: “The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the importance of resilient supply chains to ensure the continued flow of essential items and keep global trade moving. That’s why we’re looking at what steps we can take to ensure we have diverse supply chains in place, to avoid shortages in the event of a future crisis.”
The development comes as Beijing has been tackling mounting international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China before spreading to the rest of the world.
On Thursday, Donald Trump stepped up his attack on China over the virus, appearing to blame Chinese president Xi Jinping for a campaign of “disinformation” that has helped spread Covid-19 around the world.
The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December and spread rapidly around the world, killing more than 320,000 people, and triggering huge economic damage.