Liz Truss: why EU praise for foreign secretary may be unwanted

It was only a few months ago that Liz Truss, perhaps best known until recently for her strong feelings about the “disgrace” that is imported cheese, was appointed foreign secretary.

Some had questioned Truss’s suitability for the role given a patchy record in the cabinet, but the liberty-loving minister has seemingly already made a mark on the global stage.

While Downing Street was battling further claims over alleged lockdown-breaching parties, Truss was the recipient of two eye-catching reviews of her performance at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

Over in Brussels, her EU counterpart, Maroš Šefčovič, with whom Truss recently spent time at the foreign secretary’s official Chevening residence, took time out at a press conference to describe her as a “top notch politician” and a proven “deal-maker”.

“We have spent a lot of time together and I think that we are now on more or less the same wavelength,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China’s nationalist tabloid the Global Times was rather less gushing. She was “a chocolate soldier”, according to an opinion piece published on Tuesday.

“So who is Liz Truss … ?” the author, who claimed to be a UK-based journalist and university lecturer, began. “There are probably people in China wondering right now whether she is really mad and even whether she wants war between their nation and her own.”

Although the Global Times does not necessarily always speak on behalf of China’s foreign policy establishment, its tone on foreign affairs is often read by analysts as broadly reflective of Beijing’s thinking.

Of the two opinions, it is perhaps Šefčovič’s that has the potential to be more problematic. The Brexiter elements of the Conservative party have been rather suspicious of those with whom the EU has felt able to do business – and there may be a leadership election on the way.

Recent events have prompted some concern in the EU that the rather warmer relations with the UK government that have prevailed since the resignation of David Frost could be derailed with talks over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland at a sensitive point.

But the attack from Beijing is unlikely to cause any loss of sleep in the Truss household.

While the MP for South West Norfolk probably became known to many people for the first time in 2014 when she lit up social media with a cringeworthy Tory party conference speech in which she railed against French cheese imports, in recent years she has put her efforts into stressing the commitment she shares with Margaret Thatcher for liberty and freedom.

The Global Times opinion piece appeared to be a response to Truss’s series of remarks in Australia last week when she highlighted on several occasions China’s challenges to liberal democracies. Towards the end of one speech at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute thinktank, Truss quoted a line from Thatcher: “Where freedom … exists, I seek to expand it; where it is under attack, I shall defend it; where it does not exist, I shall try to create it.”

The Global Times had a different interpretation. “She probably likes to think of herself as another Margaret Thatcher … ” the article responded. “But the truth is she is less of an Iron Lady and more of a chocolate soldier, someone who might look smart and shiny in a uniform, but is utterly clueless when it comes to fighting.”

During her visit to Australia, Truss said that China and Russia – who she described as “aggressors” – were “working in concert” to dominate their spheres of influence. She also suggested that Beijing might use a Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to launch aggression of its own in the region. The former Australian prime minister Paul Keating called her remark “nothing short of demented”.