According to The Sunday Times newspaper, one of the men was a parliamentary researcher who had worked with senior MPs from Sunak’s Conservative Party on foreign policy.
Sunak’s office told journalists after the meeting that the prime minister had conveyed “significant concerns about Chinese interference in the UK’s parliamentary democracy”.
But he also said Britain values China’s significant role in the global system, and pledged to cooperate with China on technology and in the fight against climate change, according to China’s foreign ministry.
He called for deeper cooperation with Britain in “trade, investment, green development, humanities and technology”.
The meeting came amid a growing push across Europe and the United States to reduce economic dependency on China, but Li urged Britain to “maintain the multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization”, and “ensure a stable global industrial supply chain”.
Li, whose primary responsibility is economic policy, added: “The two sides should appropriately handle disagreement, uphold the spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding, and respect each other’s core interests and key concerns.”
He also said: “Both China and the United Kingdom are advocates, participators and beneficiaries of free trade, and should jointly oppose the securitising and politicising of economic issues, and promote an open world economy.”
Following the US decision to ban Huawei, a leading Chinese telecoms equipment provider, London followed suit citing national security concerns.
No plans have yet been announced for a meeting between Sunak and Xi, but Cleverly’s visit last month made him the most senior British official to visit China since 2018.
He met China’s Vice-President Han Zheng and foreign policy Wang Yi during the visit, where the British Foreign Office said he had raised thorny issues such as human rights concerns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, China’s alleged malign cyber activity, Taiwan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He also urged Beijing to drop sanctions on some British lawmakers.
Trade between the two countries has been falling in recent years, dropping 5.3 per cent year-on-year in 2022 to US$103.3 billion, according to Chinese customs data. Trade in the first eight months of this year dropped a further 0.6 per cent from a year earlier to US$64.2 billion.
On Saturday Li delivered similar messages about the importance of open trade relations in meetings with European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
“Risk prevention and cooperation are not antithetical,” he told von der Leyen. “China’s development and opening-up brings opportunities to Europe and the world, rather than risks.”
He also pledged to further cooperate with the EU on climate issues such as clean energy, green finance, and supporting developing countries hit by climate change.
In a post on Twitter, von der Leyen, highlighted the EU’s hope that “China can play a positive role in achieving a just and lasting peace in Ukraine”.
On Saturday she said only that the meeting with Li “confirmed the common intention to consolidate and deepen dialogue between Rome and Beijing on the main bilateral and international issues,” according to an official Italian statement.
Li told her that the two countries should “keep expanding bilateral trade” and “safeguard the security and stability of the global industrial supply chain”.