Benedict Rogers: What Ministers should do next to help Hong Kongers

1 Jul

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, an advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign, and Senior Analyst for East Asia to the international human organisation CSW.

A year ago today, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel did something genuinely courageous, generous and right.

Within hours of the imposition of a draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong that destroyed the city’s promised freedoms and autonomy, the United Kingdom announced a scheme that would enable five million Hong Kongers to come here on a “pathway to citizenship”. It provided a lifeline to many who may need to flee Hong Kong as it is rapidly transformed from one of Asia’s most open cities into a place of Orwellian fear and repression.

The Government deserves credit for this, and the Home Secretary especially. For a government that delivered Brexit on a theme of limiting immigration to throw open the doors to a few million people in their hour of need is remarkable.

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary declared that the National Security Law, imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party regime with no consultation whatsoever, represents a “clear and serious breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the international treaty that was supposed to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms for at least fifty years from the handover.

Over the past year, the Foreign Secretary has declared further breaches and says Beijing is in a “state of ongoing non-compliance” with the treaty. A diplomatic understatement.

We have seen Hong Kong’s most respected, moderate, internationally-renowned pro-democracy leaders prosecuted and jailed, simply for expressing their desire for freedom.

The pro-democracy camp has been expelled from the legislature, politicians and activists charged and jailed for holding a primary election and the electoral law changed to exclude pro-democracy candidates.

And last week, in the latest hammer-blow, Hong Kong’s only remaining Chinese language, mass circulation pro-democracy daily newspaper, Apple Daily, was strangled to death, its editor and senior executives arrested and charged with “collusion” with foreigners, its newsroom raided by 500 police officers, its bank accounts frozen and its existence extinguished. Its founder, Jimmy Lai, languishes in jail awaiting trial, and could face life imprisonment.

As we mark the 24th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong – as well as the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party – there is nothing to celebrate. Today is, for freedom-loving people everywhere, a day of mourning. The only thing we can be grateful for is that, at the eleventh hour, Britain did right by Hong Kong.

And thousands of Hong Kongers are taking up the offer. In the first two months after the scheme opened, 34,300 applications were made. From July 2020 until March this year, 292,000 British National Overseas (BNO) passports were issued. The Home Office anticipates between 258,000-322,400 Hong Kongers arriving here over the next five years and up to 150,000 this year alone.

So the Government’s job is not done. Ensuring a proper welcome and integration programme to help Hong Kongers settle here successfully is vital. Ministers are seized of this, with Lord Greenhalgh leading as co-ordinating minister, ensuring a cross-Whitehall approach. In April, the Government announced a £43 million support package and 12 ‘Welcome hubs’ across the country, helping Hong Kongers access housing, employment and educational support. Ministers also dropped their condition of no recourse to public funds, making assistance available for anyone in danger of destitution.

No one expects government to do this alone. Civil society is stepping up, a ‘Welcoming Committee’ has been established and government is eager to listen and collaborate.

All good. But more to do.

Hong Kongers moving here are still subject to international student fees for higher education, which for Russell Group universities average at £20,000. Given that BNO families will already have had to meet visa fees, an immigration health surcharge and provide evidence of ability to support themselves for six months, and that residents from almost all British Overseas Territories are eligible for ‘home fees’, this should be addressed. Hong Kong students who intend to make their life here and contribute to our economy and society should be treated as ‘home’ students.

BNOs leaving Hong Kong may be penalised from doing so by financial institutions. Hong Kong’s Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) is preventing BNOs from withdrawing pension funds, depriving people of life savings. One couple saved around £36,800 in their MPF over twenty years, and yet despite providing proof of their relocation, they have been unable to withdraw their funds. The two biggest MPF providers are HSBC, headquartered in London, and Manulife, headquartered in Canada.

Other financial pressure is also being applied. HSBC froze the bank accounts of a former legislator Ted Hui, now in Australia, and warned that online and mobile banking services may not be authorized for Hong Kongers outside Hong Kong. The UK must put pressure on international financial institutions to cease complicity with the regime’s coercion.

English language teaching will be needed for some, mental health and trauma counselling for others and prevention of both racially-motivated hate crime in communities and politically-motivated intimidation by pro-Beijing elements should be a priority. It will also be essential to ensure that pro-Beijing entities here, who support Beijing’s repression of Hong Kong, do not benefit from public funding.

The biggest single issue yet to be addressed is eligibility. Those born after 1997 who are not dependents of BNO holders don’t qualify. And that leaves many of the most politically active, vulnerable young people in danger. If they stay in Hong Kong they face jail or a bleak future. If they come here, currently their options are limited. Asylum is a bleak route.

Better would be to expand study or work visas that could lead to settlement. Canada and Australia have offered options, and there are efforts in the United States and the European Union to do likewise. If Britain shares the load with other democracies, the numbers involved are small but the lives and futures at stake incalculable. Yesterday, Hong Kong Watch released a briefing, with recommendations, on all these and other challenges. Implemented well, this scheme can be a great success, giving Hong Kongers a lifeline and injecting into the UK a new, dynamic, entrepreneurial, creative, exciting spirit which they embody. But failure to properly welcome and integrate could be costly.

Finally, let us not think the BNO policy is the only step we need to take. It is not a solution. It offers a lifeline, but it does nothing to change the dire situation on the ground.

So on the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th birthday, if we’re really serious about defending our values, we need to give Beijing a special present. We must make the regime pay for its crimes. We need sanctions. To allow the regime to get away with tearing up an international treaty with impunity will only embolden them to continue assaulting freedom. Taiwan is in its sights, and our own freedoms are too. So as well as welcoming Hong Kongers, we must hold the regime that drove them here to account.

Benedict Rogers: 32 years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, China’s human rights abuses continue. Here’s how the UK responds.

4 Jun

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, an adviser to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign.

Thirty-two years ago today, the true character of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was on full display. Peaceful protesters whose only “crime” was to appeal for democracy were gunned down as tanks rolled across Tiananmen Square and soldiers hunted students in back alleys and universities throughout China. British diplomatic cables reveal the death toll was at least 10,000.

The character of the protesters was on display too, symbolised by “Tank Man”, the brave, unarmed man who stood in front of the tanks, temporarily halting their advance and producing an iconic image.

Three decades on, the regime’s character has not changed. Its tactics have become more sophisticated, weaponising financial influence, economic coercion, technology and multilateral institutions, but it remains the same inhumane, brutal, corrupt, repressive and mendacious regime. What has changed is that it is no longer a danger solely to its own people, but to freedom itself. Last month I spoke in a webinar on the question: “China: Friend or Foe?”. My answer is that it is absolutely essential to distinguish between China as a country and a people, and the CCP regime.

Having spent much of my adult life in and around China for almost 30 years, living there, travelling there over 40 times and graduating with a Master’s in China Studies, I am a friend of China. I speak out for human rights because I want the peoples of China to be free, to comment online or go to a place of worship or criticise a leader without fear of jail and torture.

With decent governance, China deserves to take its place on the world stage as a great nation. So in this sense, like the Prime Minister, I am “fervently Sinophile”. But key to this is the intentions and conduct of the CCP regime – and whether we like it or not, it has made it abundantly clear that it is a foe of everything we believe in: democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the international rules-based order.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a sense that as China opened up economically, it might liberalise politically. From my own visits to China, I witnessed some space opening. Of course the regime was always repressive, but nevertheless, within certain limits there were civil society activists, human rights defenders, citizen journalists and religious believers who could do things that would have been impossible under Chairman Mao. Just over ten years ago, I met Chinese human rights lawyers in a restaurant in Beijing. They talked about their courageous work defending the rights of religious adherents and their hopes that this space that had opened might further expand.

Those hopes of reform have vanished over the past decade under Xi Jinping. Reverting to a cult of personality not seen since Mao, he has ended term limits, seeks to be president for life, added “Xi Jinping Thought” to the constitution and cracked down on all dissent. Those lawyers I met have either been jailed, disappeared or disbarred. That “space”, albeit limited, for dissent, religious practice, legal defence or independent media has evaporated.

On the question of “friend or foe”, let’s not be naïve. In his first speech to the Politburo in 2013, Xi is clear about his ambitions, to build “a socialism that is superior to capitalism” and “have the dominant position.” In a key policy communique – with the Orwellian title Document No. 9 – the regime details its enmity to constitutional multi-party democracy, judicial independence, “universal” human rights, civil society and an independent media, categorised among the seven “don’t speaks”.

And look at the regime’s behaviour.

At home it is committing atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs, recognised by the US Administration, the Canadian, Dutch Parliaments and UK Parliaments and legal experts as genocide. This includes the incarceration of a million Uyghurs in concentration camps, forced sterilisation, slave labour, sexual violence, torture, forced organ harvesting and religious persecution. Today, the Uyghur Tribunal – chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic – opens. It should not be forgotten that two years ago, the China Tribunal investigating forced organ harvesting concluded that the regime is committing crimes against humanity and is “a criminal state”.

But while the Uyghurs are rightly receiving more attention, let us not ignore intensifying repression in Tibet, a crackdown on Christians which is the worst since the Cultural Revolution, and persecution of Falun Gong.

Let us also remember, as we mark the 24th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong on July 1, this regime’s flagrant breach of an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Beijing pledged to uphold Hong Kong’s freedoms, rule of law and autonomy under “one country, two systems” for the first 50 years of Chinese sovereignty, until 2047. Less than halfway through, Xi’s regime has torn up that promise and rapidly dismantled Hong Kong’s freedoms. Almost all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders are either on trial, in jail or in exile, and the regime continues to destroy what remains of media and academic freedom.

Hong Kong used to be the only place in China where the June 4 massacre could be commemorated publicly. This year, anyone who does so faces several years in jail. Add to the list the regime’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Whatever the truth about the Wuhan laboratory leak theory – which should be investigated – the regime’s initial response was to suppress the truth and not the virus, silence whistleblowers and threaten those calling for an inquiry. Its irresponsible cover-up caused death and devastation for millions around the world.

Its bellicose “wolf-warrior” diplomacy, attempts to intimidate critics well beyond its borders (including myself), sanctions against Western Parliamentarians, academics and think-tanks, intellectual property theft and threats to academic freedoms in our universities hardly render this regime a friend. Its aggression towards Taiwan and adventurism in the South China Sea complete the catalogue of dangers.

So what do we do?

First, completely review our China policy. Stop naively pursuing “cakeism” and totally recalibrate. Recognise that this is a regime that is committing genocide and crimes against humanity, shows total disregard for international law and threatens our freedoms and the rules-based order, and should be sanctioned. The imposition of “Magnitsky” sanctions by the UK in March is a welcome start, but more is needed. Chen Quangguo, the Party Secretary in Xinjiang, architect of intensified repression against the Uyghurs, should be added to the list, along with enterprises complicit with atrocities and the surveillance state.

We should review CCP influence in our universities, and the activities of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, Confucius Institutes and joint research programmes involving potentially sensitive national security projects. The Government should study Civitas’ alarming new report Inadvertently Arming China, along with Jo Johnson’s, and ask why we have a Chinese military weapons scientist at the heart of a research programme at Cambridge?

Second, build alliances to face this challenge together. When countries act alone, Beijing can play them off against each other. Let’s build a global democratic alliance. We should stand with our friends in Australia and work with President Biden to develop his proposed “Summit of Democracies”. We should pursue the Prime Minister’s “D10” alliance. At the G7 in Cornwall next week, effort should be invested not only in strong joint statements but on a longer-term coordinated policy plan.

Third, keep the memory of June 4 1989 alive. In China the history books have been wiped clean – many Chinese born since 1989 do not even know about it. So it’s up to us to ensure that the truth is never forgotten – and that the regime is one day held to account for its crimes.

Finally, never let this debate be hijacked by any anti-China narrative, for that would be both morally wrong and counter-productive. The regime wants the Party and the country to be one and the same, and we must not be fooled by that. As disgusting, disgraceful anti-Chinese racism is sadly on the rise we should actively counter it, but never allow Beijing to suggest that criticism of the CCP’s conduct equates to racism.

The people of China – those who stood and fell 32 years ago for freedom, took to the streets for democracy in Hong Kong more recently, and languish in concentration camps, torture chambers and slave-labour production lines today – are our friends. We owe it to them, and ourselves, to stand up to the regime that has declared itself our common foe.

Benedict Rogers: It’s time for the Government to abandon its ‘cakeism’ on China

23 Mar

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, an advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign, and Senior Analyst for East Asia to the international human organisation CSW.  He is a former Parliamentary candidate and author of six books.

There is much in the Government’s “Integrated Review” of security, defence, development and foreign policy to commend it. At least rhetorically. The linguistic focus on human rights, liberal democracy, open societies, and the need to lead the world in defending these values is very welcome indeed.

For too long some in the free world have been shy about promoting freedom, and yet now – when it is under threat as never before – it is good that Britain is stepping up to the plate: in word, if only half in deed.

It is right that if we are to defend freedom, we should exercise it responsibly and exhibit its merits. As the Prime Minister correctly says in his Foreword to the report:

“We must show that freedom to speak, think and choose – and therefore to innovate – offers an inherent advantage; and that liberal democracy and free markets remain the best model for social and economic advancement of human kind.”

For Britain to be, as the review and the Foreign Secretary put it, “a force for good” is also very welcome. The vision of championing human rights, especially freedom of religion or belief and media freedom, is laudable. After all, if we do not have the freedom to choose, practice, share non-coercively or change or religion or belief, and if we do not have a free media to report on violations and hold governments to account, we have no freedom.

These are two of the bedrocks, the pillars, of human rights and it is absolutely correct for the Government to zoom in on them. They are two campaigns for which Jeremy Hunt, the former Foreign Secretary, deserves great credit, and it is excellent that his successor Dominic Raab has developed them further.

The emphasis on multilateralism is right, and the pivot to the Indo-Pacific is superb. As someone who has spent much of my life working in and around Asia, Britain’s new focus on this region and ambition to be, in the words of the review, “the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence” in the region is very welcome.

And there are so many friends in the Indo-Pacific with whom we should strengthen ties. Established democracies such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and fragile, emerging democracies who have inspired the world with their transition but who still need a helping hand, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Long-standing friends such as Singapore whose systems and values may differ but who, through dialogue and relationship, might be encouraged further along the path of openness.

And India, which faces a crossroads between multi-party democracy and democratic nationalism, embracing diversity or proceeding head-long on a path of identity politics, religious fascism and conflict. With all these countries, with whom we share values in some cases and histories in many, it is right that we engage.

The big elephant in the room is China.

To be fair to the Government, there has been a journey of thinking, a change of mindset, or at least a shift in rhetoric and attitude since the ill-fated so-called “Golden Era” of Sino-British relations of five years ago. Now, at least, the Government acknowledges – publicly – the scale of the atrocities committed against its own people by the Communist regime.

The Integrated Review recognizes China’s increasing assertiveness as “the most significant geopolitical factor of the 2020s” and “the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security”. And the Foreign Secretary has called out the Chinese regime’s “industrial-scale” violations against the Uyghurs, and yesterday rightly imposed targeted sanctions as a result. A very welcome move.

But the Government is still hamstrung by its “cakeism” approach – its desire to have its cake and eat it, to call out China’s violations, stand up for our values… but continue to conduct, and increase, business.

It deserves credit for how far it has moved. Its offer to Hong Kong British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders is courageous, generous and historic and deserves unreserved praise. It has given a lifeline potentially to several million Hong Kongers who yearn for freedom. Raab, Johnson, and Priti Patel – who met with newly arrived Hong Kongers last Friday – should be applauded.

The response from Government to the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s new report on China earlier this year also deserves praise: it was well received, and both ministers and officials engaged with it thoughtfully and constructively.

But there’s more to do. Sooner or later the Government will have to make a choice. Does it want to listen to Stanley Johnson and George Osborne, or wiser heads such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Tom Tugendhat?

Osborne describes those who wish to prevent the genocide of the Uyghurs or who oppose the dismantling of promised democracy in Hong Kong, in violation of an international treaty, as “hotheads”. And he accuses them of wanting to “launch some new Cold War” against China.

George, I’m sorry, but nobody wants a new Cold War. If anyone talks about a Cold War, it is in terms of recognizing one which the regime in Beijing may have initiated, not one anyone wanted. And if protesting against genocide or breaches of treaty promises to Hong Kong makes any of us a “hothead”, then I plead guilty – not because I am intemperate, but because I believe mass atrocities should be prevented and treaty promises should be honoured. Don’t you, George?

Sadly, your testimony to the House of Lords International Relations Committee was pitiful. Citing the fact that your mother raised funds for Amnesty International doesn’t provide cover for a policy of complicity and silence with genocide and human rights violations. And saying that the United States government hasn’t declared the Uyghur crisis a genocide is either an act of ignorance or a lie: it has, both the previous and the present administrations.

And as for Stanley Johnson’s recent outburst: as always, the best response to his crazed interventions is a disapproving silence.

At its heart this is a battle of values. Do we defend our values, and our freedoms, at home and around the world, in action as well as in rhetoric? Or do we surrender them and sell our soul? Or do we try to cobble together a mix of the two?

That’s the dilemma facing the Government. The Integrated Review – and yesterday’s sanctions – are something of a step forward, but there’s a very long way to go and a lot more work to do. Do we want to capture the spirit of Winston Churchill, or that of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain? That’s our challenge.

Benedict Rogers: It seems plausible that this brazen assault on democracy in Myanmar is driven by one man’s ambition

1 Feb

Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is Senior Analyst for East Asia at CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, author of three books on Myanmar (Burma), including “Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads”, and a former parliamentary candidate.

Today’s coup in Myanmar (Burma) is a devastating blow to a decade of fragile democratization, and a major setback for a beautiful but benighted country that has already suffered decades of war, poverty and repression.

Although Myanmar has a long history of military rule, this latest move comes as a surprise. Despite a transition to a civilian-led democratic government under Aung San Suu Kyi five years ago, the military has in any case retained real power.

Under the constitution which it wrote, Myanmar’s military has direct control of three key government ministries – Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence – as well as a quarter of parliamentary seats reserved for the armed forces. It controls its budget, and many enterprises. Aung San Suu Kyi has bent over backwards to compromise with the military, even defending them in The Hague on charges of genocide. So why would the army move against her now?

One theory is that the military is driven by power and is incapable of relinquishing it. Ever since General Ne Win’s first takeover in 1958, the military has been the dominant political force in Myanmar. His caretaker regime handed over to a democratically elected government in 1960, only to seize power in a coup in 1962.

For over 50 years the army ruled Myanmar directly, rejected Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD)’s first election victory in 1990 and transitioned to a ‘civilian’ government led by former generals dressed in suits rather than military uniforms in 2010. Only after the NLD’s overwhelming win in 2015 did the military move from centre stage to the wings of politics, but even then it continued to exercise overwhelming influence. But perhaps it wasn’t satisfied with that, and wanted to play a starring role again.

Another theory, however, is more plausible, and it is that this coup is not so much driven by the military as a whole, but by the personal ambitions of one man – the Commander-in-Chief General Min Aung Hlaing.

He wants to be President and was dissatisfied that the military-backed party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), did not do well in last November’s election. Knowing that he has to retire from his current post in June this year, he appears to have decided that if he can’t be President using legitimate, constitutional means, he would seize power anyway.

The pretext for the coup – the army’s claim of voter fraud in last year’s election – is risible. An institution that for decades has defrauded the electorate has no right to make such an allegation. While there are concerns that some of the country’s ethnic minorities were disenfranchised in the election, there is no evidence of voter fraud at the ballot box and no legitimate reason to doubt the NLD’s victory.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the President Win Myint, government ministers, regional chief ministers and a number of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, and a state of emergency imposed for a year. This is truly an outrage, and the international community must not stand for it. Britain, the United States, the European Union and others invested significantly in the reform period that began a decade ago, and so cannot allow this coup to pass without consequences.

Reaction has been swift – but so far only rhetorical. Anthony Blinken, the new US Secretary of State, called on the military to reverse their actions “immediately” and “to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on November 8.”

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, issued a statement in which he described the developments as “a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.”

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, condemned the coup in a tweet, calling for the military to release all those who have been detained unlawfully and for the restoration of the democratic process.

And Boris Johnson condemned the coup and the unlawful imprisonment of civilians.

Now the free world must set out what it will do if the military do not back down – and the United Kingdom should take a lead. We should impose co-ordinated, targeted sanctions – not broad-based sanctions against the country, which would hurt the people, but sanctions specifically against the military’s enterprises and assets.

In July 2020, the United Kingdom announced sanctions against two high ranking members of the Burmese military under the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime – otherwise known as “Magnitsky” sanctions – for human rights violations, but what is needed now is measures against military companies and the economic interests of the military as a whole.

The United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, the European Union, Japan and other allies must work together on this, though if a unified approach cannot be reached, those that are willing to go down the sanctions path should do so anyway, and work with allies on other measures they can agree on.

If it is the case that this coup is more about Min Aung Hlaing’s personal ambitions, then it may be possible to cause a split in the military if international pressure is perceived to hit its economic interests. If that happens, perhaps wiser, cooler heads in the military may prevail and force the Commander-in-Chief to back down.

Certainly one thing is clear: if the Myanmar army is allowed to get away with this brazen assault on a fragile democracy, not only will Myanmar’s development and progress be set back, but it will send an unwelcome green light to others in South-East Asia and beyond, that unconstitutional seizures of power will be allowed to go unchecked. And that – in a world where the cause of freedom and democracy is already on the back foot – would be devastating.

Benedict Rogers: The Government urgently needs an integration plan for those fleeing oppression in Hong Kong

27 Jan

Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer and a former parliamentary candidate. He is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). 

On July 1 last year, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, announced one of the most courageous, generous and heroic expansions of immigration policy in post-Second World War history. With the backing of the Prime Minister and the leadership of the Home Secretary, both of whom deserve credit, he unveiled an offer to millions of Hong Kongers in their hour of need, telling them they could come to Britain, live, study and work here and be on a pathway to citizenship and security.

At the end of this month, in just a few days’ time, that offer becomes a reality. Covid-19 restrictions on our borders, quarantine and flightpaths may delay the flow, but without doubt a large number of Hong Kongers will take up the offer just as soon as they can. The expansion of the British National Overseas (BNO) passport right means that over five million Hong Kongers – those born before 1997 and their dependents – are eligible to come to the United Kingdom, to live here, buy or rent property here, find a job here and be on a “pathway to citizenship” that will enable them to settle here.

In the Home Office’s own terms, it’s a hybrid scheme – part humanitarian rescue, part migration. Those who qualify for BNO are not coming as refugees, but migrants and future British citizens. But some – those born after 1997, who include the most vulnerable young protesters in grave danger of political prosecution – are already coming to Britain too, in search of urgent sanctuary. We must be ready to support them.

The Government’s offer is generous and bold but for the potential of the scheme to be realised, we must now prioritise integration.

When thousands of Hong Kongers arrive at Heathrow and are waved through under the new scheme, what happens next? What preparations are in place for quarantine, how to help them find housing, jobs, schools for their kids, access to a GP? They have no recourse to public funds under the terms of the offer, but there is a need for a welcome pack and an integration plan.

A common misperception prevails that Hong Kongers are all wealthy, super-educated, entrepreneurial and speak great English: so no problem. I lived in Hong Kong for five years and have worked with Hong Kongers for almost 25 years, and I can tell you: most are dynamic, many are entrepreneurial, a good number are educated, but not all speak good English, some don’t have wealth and a few are very vulnerable. Helping them get up on their feet will not be onerous on the taxpayer, and the millions of pounds in capital which may arrive with them will doubtless be a boon, but those who choose to flee oppression in Hong Kong deserve a warm welcome and signposts to help them start their new lives.

We need a plan – from government and civil society. That’s why this week over ten civil society groups have signed a letter to Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster General, who is coordinating the Government’s response, to call for one to be put in place.

This should draw on the extensive experience that civil society, churches, communities, families and individuals have of welcoming people to the UK: a society where people from around the world have found they can flourish. But government – in Whitehall and at local authority level – need a plan, and some resources, in place.

There should be an information hub for Hong Kongers when they arrive – for the immediate pandemic-related question of where they go for quarantine, and then the short-term question of what arrangements can be made for accommodation.

Then Government and civil society should work together to ensure that Hong Kongers are welcomed, and receive the advice they need to settle in – to find a doctor, a school, a job, a community and opportunities.

Given the chance, Hong Kongers will be a net gain for Britain’s economy and society. As a generalisation and in the long-run, they will be people with a “get up and go” spirit who will start businesses, create jobs and contribute to our professions. They will be doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants and teachers who will bring talent to our public sector, or small business people who will begin enterprises that will bring dynamism to our economy.

To those in Britain who fear that a migration influx will “steal” jobs, I say that on the contrary they will create them. Some might even be recruited to our foreign and defence apparatus to bring linguistic and intelligence expertise to enhance our national security. The idea of a “charter city” for Hong Kongers, perhaps in the north of England, advanced by Lord Skildelsky, Lord Alton and others, could be further explored. All in all, it’s a moral and humanitarian policy that will result in a net gain for Britain. But only if done well because if implemented poorly – or with no planning at all – it could foster resentment and even Sinophobia.

Whitehall, local government, civil society and communities all have a part to play in welcoming Hong Kongers to Britain. That needs a plan, co-ordination and resources. Mordaunt must call an emergency cross-departmental ministerial meeting immediately, to put a plan in place to ensure that an historic offer doesn’t become an historic disaster.

Benedict Rogers: Amendments to the Government’s Trade Bill can help Britain stand up to genocidal regimes

7 Dec

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

Sixteen year-old Khalida lay prostrate on the floor of her bamboo hut in a refugee camp. She could barely even lift her head when I entered. She had been shot multiple times and left for dead, hidden among hundreds of corpses. At least 300 had been killed in her village alone, she told me, including her father, two sisters and a brother. Her 18-year-old brother Mohammed had escaped before the attack and returned only when it was safe to do so. Amidst the carnage and corpses, he found his sister, still alive, and carried her to Bangladesh.

Khalida was a victim of a genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas that forced over 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh, left thousands were killed, unknown numbers of women and girls raped, babies and children thrown into fires and villagers lined up and shot.

Today, another genocide is unfolding. It doesn’t involve guns and burning villages, but instead forced sterilisations, forced abortions, forced organ harvesting, slave labour, mass surveillance, separation of millions of children from their families and the internment of at least a million people. It entails the suppression of language, religion and cultural identity. It is the genocide of the Uyghurs in China.

Earlier this year the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission held an inquiry on human rights in China. Our report will be released in the new year. One Uyghur witness told us in our first hearing that the Chinese Communist Party regime aims to “wipe out” three categories of Uyghur: “intellectual Uyghurs, rich Uyghurs and religious Uyghurs”. Fifteen members of her entire family were in the concentration camps in Xinjiang – or East Turkestan as Uyghurs prefer to call it.

China’s state media has said that the goal in regard to the Uyghurs is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins.” As the The Washington Post put it, “It’s hard to read that as anything other than a declaration of genocidal intent.” Leaked high-level Chinese government documents speak of “absolutely no mercy”.

For the Jewish community in particular, comparisons with the Holocaust are rare and sensitive. So it is significant that Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote to the Chinese ambassador in London Liu Xiaoming saying: “Nobody could … fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago: People being forcibly loaded onto trains; beards of religious men being trimmed; women being sterilised; and the grim spectre of concentration camps.” The late Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, Tweeted in a similar vain, and The Jewish News has twice run the Uyghur story on its frontpage – the only British newspaper to do so.

And yet the international community has so far proven impotent in the face of these atrocities. No one has been brought to justice for these crimes, which continue with impunity. The words “never again” have been uttered after every genocide in recent decades, but have proven all too hollow.

Today, the House of Lords has a chance to take a step towards rectifying that. An amendment to the Government’s Trade Bill by a cross-party group of peers offers a simple proposition: Britain should not trade with genocidal regimes.

But who determines a genocide? The British government’s response has always been that the recognition of genocide is a matter for “judicial decision”, not for politicians. Fine. The problem, however, is that the international judicial system does not work – particularly where China is concerned. Despite the mounting evidence of atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs, and a growing number of international experts acknowledging that it points to genocide, China would never allow a referral to the International Criminal Court at the UN Security Council. The system is hamstrung.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord Hope of Craighead, former Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Falkner of Margavine, both crossbenchers, and others have come up with a solution. The amendment before the House of Lords would allow for the High Court of England and Wales to make a “preliminary determination” on genocide. This ingenious solution breaks the logjam while remaining consistent with the government’s view that it is for judges to decide.

The consequence of a preliminary determination of genocide by Britain’s courts, under this amendment, would be that bilateral trade deals with genocidal states would be revoked or prohibited. As Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, argues, “this is manifestly proportionate. No well-ordered state would want to be trading with a genocidal state.”

How does this affect past genocides? It doesn’t. The amendment applies only to genocides occurring after this bill comes into force, and only to those considered by the High Court to be “ongoing at the time of its coming into force”.

Does it violate our multilateral trade commitments? No, because it only applies to bilateral agreements.

Does it prevent further action by the United Nations? Not at all – indeed, precisely because it requires a “preliminary determination” by our courts, it strengthens the case for a full determination through the international system – potentially resulting in a prosecution.

As Nice says, “it would also discourage, and probably significantly reduce, casual and often instrumental assertions that genocide is being committed.”

The amendment now has the support of the Labour Party frontbench, the Liberal Democrats’ defence spokesperson Baroness Smith of Newnham and many Conservative peers. The Bishop of St Albans officially supports it too, and the rest of the bishops’ bench is expected to pile in on it.

The Government now has a choice. It can resist it but face defeat in the House of Lords, and a significant rebellion when it goes to the House of Commons. Or it can show moral courage and leadership and back – or at least accept – the amendment now, and send the world a clear message that Britain won’t be complicit with the “crime of crimes”.

If Britain leads on this, others will follow and we have a chance at long last to make the 1948 Genocide Convention mean something more than words. For as Labour’s spokesman Lord Stevenson of Balmacara put it, “if we care about our moral values as a nation, we should have no grounds not to support the amendment.” I hope every Conservative Peer – and every MP when it reaches the House of Commons – will back it.

Benedict Rogers: It’s time for Raab to bring Magnitsky sanctions to bear on those oppressing Hong Kong

25 Aug

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

It is not often that one sees Iain Duncan Smith, John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett, Andrew Adonis, Alistair Carmichael and the Scottish Nationalists on the same page.

Bringing the former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer together with the former Labour Shadow Chancellor, the former Green Party leader, the former Labour minister and leading Remainer, the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, and two SNP MPs is an achievement – and as far as I can see it is Carrie Lam’s, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, only achievement.

Last week these politicians, together with David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, Helena Kennedy, a leading human rights barrister and Labour peer, and 12 other Parliamentarians, wrote to the Foreign Secretary in support of calls for the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials responsible for grave human rights violations and a flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Their letter follows a personal appeal to Dominic Raab by Nathan Law, the highest-profile pro-democracy activist to escape Hong Kong since the imposition of the new draconian national security law on 1 July.

In 2016, Law was elected Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, at the age of 23, but was disqualified the following year for quoting Mahatma Gandhi when he took his oath of office. He was then sentenced to eight months in jail for his role in leading the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. In his letter, Law writes:

As a party to the legally binding Sino British Joint Declaration, the United Kingdom holds a unique position in advocating for Hong Kong. I earnestly hope that the UK government would take the important step to sanction Ms Carrie Lam and other officials involved, so to send a clear signal –– not just to Beijing, but also to other countries in the free world that we ought to stand firm against an oppressive regime which disrespects both their citizens’ rights and the international norms.  Please safeguard our shared belief in freedom and human rights as well as the pursuit of democracy in Hong Kong. Please stand with Hong Kong.”

Since the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing, Britain has responded robustly, by announcing a generous package to allow Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports to come to the UK on a “pathway to citizenship”, and by suspending our extradition agreement with Hong Kong. These are very welcome steps, but there is much more than needs to be done.

Although the new law has only been in place for less than two months, we are already seeing its dramatic impact on Hong Kong. The arrest of several prominent activists, particularly the entrepreneur and media proprieter Jimmy Lai, the police raid on his pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and the arrest of Law’s colleague Agnes Chow and ITN reporter Wilson Li; the issuing of arrest warrants for six Hong Kong activists outside Hong Kong, including Law; and the banning of slogans, the withdrawal of pro-democracy books from libraries and the censorship of school textbooks; all indicate the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems” and the destruction of the city’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is right for the British Government to respond to events proportionately, and with a staggered approach. There is no point in firing all our ammunition in one go, and then having nothing left to deploy. But the events in Hong Kong in recent weeks require a response that goes beyond rhetoric. That’s why it is time for targeted sanctions.

The United States has already imposed its Magnitsky sanctions on Lam and other officials, but it is vital that the international community act in as united and co-ordinated a way as possible. Hong Kong must not become – or even be perceived to be – a pawn in a US-China fight, but rather as the front line in the fight for freedom and the international rules-based order.

For that reason, the rest of the free world has a duty to act, and as the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s continued autonomy, it is right that Britain should lead the way.

Our Magnitsky sanctions legislation is now in place, and so far 49 individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Burma are on the list. Raab is one of the architects of this legislation – dating back to his days on the backbenches when he championed the idea – and he is said to regard it as a legacy issue. So he has every interest in ensuring that this sanctions regime is meaningful.

To do that, those responsible for dismantling freedoms in Hong Kong, once one of Asia’s most open cities, and the violation of an international treaty – as well as those perpetrating some of the 21st Century’s most egregious atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs – must be held to account. If Lam cannot be sanctioned for presiding over a year of shocking police brutality and repression, who can?

So the 19 Parliamentarians who signed this letter are right to declare: “We stand with Nathan in this appeal.” I do too, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will act soon.

Benedict Rogers: We are on the brink of a new Cold War. Hong Kong is the frontline.

24 Jun

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch. He works full-time at the international human rights organisation CSW, which specializes in freedom of religion or belief for all, and also serves as the Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission. He is also on the advisory board of the new Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC).

It seems to me we are on the brink of war. Not a war between nations or peoples, and not a war that necessarily involves military hardware – yet. But a new Cold War, between values. A war between freedom and authoritarianism, between human rights and repression, between the international rules-based system and a winner-takes-all profiteering perspective. And the frontline in this new war is Hong Kong.

A month ago, the Chinese Communist Party regime shocked the world by announcing that it would impose on Hong Kong a national security law that would destroy Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, flagrantly flout an international treaty – the Sino-British Joint Declaration – and decimate Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy” under “one country, two systems”.

Democracies scrambled to respond, and their response – to their credit – has not been lacking in vigour. The United States announced that Beijing’s decision rendered their special treatment of Hong Kong as a special autonomous region redundant, since Beijing was so blatantly disregarding Hong Kong’s autonomy. The United Kingdom followed suit by pledging expanded protection for Hong Kong’s British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders, if the security law is imposed, on the basis that China has violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Now the European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for a case to be brought at the International Court of Justice against China for violation of the Joint Declaration, targeted sanctions, a UN Special Envoy or Special Rapporteur and a lifeboat policy to offer sanctuary for brave Hong Kong frontline activists who are not BNOs and who may be in grave danger under Beijing’s new security law. It is a resolution that mandates an immediate action plan.

Now Beijing has revealed some of the details of its dreaded new law. And it is appalling. While a full draft is not yet released let alone approved, Chinese State media has let it be known that those convicted of “moderate” violations of the security law in Hong Kong – whatever “moderate” means – may be jailed for three years, and those convicted of “serious” crimes could face five or ten years, or more, in jail. The law suggests that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive – currently Carrie Lam, who has proved herself to be a totally subservient puppet of Beijing – can choose the judges in such cases, and that Beijing will oversee the process. In other words, judicial independence is dead and buried if this goes through and the rule of law becomes a historical fact rather than a present reassurance.

So all the theorizing, positioning and leveraging become no longer a matter of conjecture and now a matter of immediate action. Will the world’s democracies step up?

In plain English, we need everyone – absolutely everyone – who believes in freedom, human rights, democracy, the rule of law – to be all hands on deck. But not in a scattergun, isolated or egotistical way. No. It’s time to unite, coordinate and fight back. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that we are, in relation to Xi Jinping’s regime in mid-2020, how we were in regard to Adolf Hitler’s regime in the late-1930s, or in response to the Soviet Union at various stages of the Cold War. We either dismiss the dangers as Stanley Baldwin did, or we try to appease as Neville Chamberlain did, or we stand true to our values and stand up for freedom – as Winston Churchill did and as Ronald Reagan, in his Berlin Wall speech, the anniversary of which was last week, did. And I know what side I am on.

For that reason, we need to unleash a full volley of reactions. Yesterday I sat with my nephews playing the card game Uno Extreme, where you press a button and a mass of cards comes if you’re unable to cast a card. The current crisis is much more complex but the principle applies. We must marshal all our cards – and ensure we don’t play the wrong one.

That means Britain leading, because Britain has a responsibility to Hong Kong – moral and legal. The Prime Minister should be commended for his op-ed in the South China Morning Post pledging protections for BNOs, and the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary should be saluted for their historic signals of intent to stand by Hong Kong. But much, much more is needed.

Britain must lead the world in establishing an international contact group to coordinate a global response. “Britain must lead” is indeed the refrain from many, and I agree – but Britain can’t do it alone. A precedent is set by the statements in past weeks by British, Australian, Canadian and US foreign ministers together. And by Japan leading the G7 statement. We need more of this. Why not build on this into an international contact group, as at least seven former foreign secretaries have suggested?

That international contact group should coordinate a lifeboat scheme to provide sanctuary for Hong Kongers who aren’t BNOs who need to escape. Helping Hong Kongers to safety is a moral responsibility – but it should also be remembered that Hong Kongers would bring wealth and entrepreneurialism, and so would be a boost to any economy rather than a burden. But a lifeboat is a last resort, not a first response. So the international contact group should coordinate international diplomatic efforts combined with targeted sanctions that will hit individuals in the Chinese and Hong Kong administrations hard.

And while many may argue that the United Nations lacks teeth, a global effort is needed to secure the establishment of a UN Special Envoy or Special Rapporteur on Hong Kong, to monitor the human rights situation and mediate a solution – as the last Governor Lord Patten, the head of the International Bar Association’s human rights centre Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the chairs of foreign affairs committees in the parliaments of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and former UN officials themselves, including the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who is also a former Chair of the UN Committee on the rights of the child, Yanghee Lee, among others, recommend.

The wheels of diplomacy turn slowly and often lack teeth. The impact of individual countries’ actions is limited. But when the world pulls together and acts as one, it can speed up the process and enhance the impact. If the free world values freedom, then it must wake up to the imminent dangers exhibited in Hong Kong – but likely to spread further if allowed to pass unchallenged. This may not be the darkest hour, as things may get darker still. But that the hour to act has come is not in doubt. For as Churchill famously said, “you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”. It’s carpe diem time – for Hong Kong, and for freedom.