Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has begun a long-awaited visit to China as the two countries attempt to stabilise bilateral ties that have frayed badly in recent years.

The trip is the first by a British top diplomat to China in more than five years, underscoring the downturn in relations over Beijing’s curbing of civil liberties in Hong Kong, a former British colony, abuses against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, China’s support for Russia and Britain’s close security ties with the United States.

“I’ve had a number of conversations with senior representatives of the Chinese government and I have raised human rights in every single one of those meetings,” Cleverly said on Wednesday.

“This is an issue that is discussed extensively not just bilaterally, but at the United Nations,” he said.