Benedict Rogers: The Tories have come a long way on China, but there is much more to do

27 Jul

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

Six years ago, when the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission published its first report on human rights in China, titled The Darkest Moment, only two MPs were willing to be publicly associated with it.

Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Treasury were furious with us; we were treated as a fringe nuisance. We felt somewhat alone.

This week, for the first time, China policy has been a major focus of the Conservative Party leadership campaign, with both candidates trying to outbid each other in how tough they can be on Beijing.

Depending on how you look at it, Rishi Sunak has shown the zeal of a Damascene conversion – or perhaps the eagerness of someone desperate to shed the perception of being pro-Beijing because he knows it could damage his prospects. Liz Truss has long been strong on rhetoric about standing up to the Chinese Communist Party, but more lacking in concrete policy.

Whatever their motives, the fact that China policy is being debated and the candidates recognise the challenge China poses is very welcome. It shows just how far the mood has changed in just a few years.

The landscape has shifted particularly dramatically in the past two years. It began with the parliamentary rebellion over Huawei and 5G in early 2020, and was accelerated by outrage at the mendacious cover-up in the early stages of Covid-19 by Beijing. The dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and the increasing revelations about Uyghur genocide and slave labour further darkened the mood on China.

The establishment of two political groups – the Conservative-based China Research Group (CRG) founded by Tom Tugendhat, who made it into the final five in the leadership race before being eliminated, and the cross-party global Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), founded by prominent Truss backer and former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith – has clearly made an impact too.

But while this broad focus on China is very welcome, we now need to move to specifics. What is needed urgently is an overall China strategy to defend our national security, our values and our economy.

That means setting out how we would counter the CCP’s transnational aggression, protect cyber security, diversify our supply chains and trading relationships to reduce strategic dependency on China, ban Chinese investment in critical infrastructure, promote human rights, and hold those responsible for atrocity crimes and violations of international treaty obligations accountable.

Both candidates have made a start. Sunak’s proposals to ban Confucius Institutes in our universities, establish an international alliance of free nations to tackle cyber-security threats, and expand MI5’s reach to better support British businesses and universities to counter Chinese espionage are very welcome.

One only has to wonder why he has only just come up with them. One also has to ask what he meant when he said in his Mansion House speech a year ago that “too often, the debate on China lacks nuance” and “we need a mature and balanced relationship”. And why Beijing, through its mouthpiece The Global Times, effectively endorsed him?

Sunak was also unwise to tweet that “China and the Chinese Communist Party represent the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity”. It is vital that we distinguish, at every opportunity, between China as a great nation with a great people, and the CCP regime.

We might use ‘China’ as shorthand for the regime, but we should neither confuse the two nor imply that both are a threat. Otherwise, we risk playing into Beijing’s narrative or inadvertently stoking anti-Chinese racism, neither of which is helpful.

Truss has a longer track-record of talking tough on China. Last year it became known she had privately referred to the atrocities against the Uyghurs as a “genocide”, something which the United States has recognised but the British Government still officially refuses to do. She has spoken often of building a “network of liberty”, emphasised the importance of standing with democratic allies under pressure from Beijing (notably Australia and Lithuania), pledged to stand with Taiwan and promised to crackdown on Chinese companies such as Tik Tok.

When I, along with the charity I co-founded, Hong Kong Watch, were threatened by Hong Kong police in March under the draconian National Security Law, she spoke out for us. The values she has consistently signalled in her speeches are ones I enthusiastically support.

But there is more to do.

In particular, we need targeted sanctions. In March 2021, the United Kingdom finally sanctioned four senior officials and the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, in response to the atrocities in Xinjiang. A long-overdue but good start, but not enough.

Chen Quanguo, the notorious former Party Secretary in Xinjiang (and previously Tibet), known as the architect of the intense crackdown, has still not been sanctioned. There is scope for many more officials to be sanctioned for atrocity crimes.

And it is outrageous that two years on from the imposition of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, which tore apart the city’s freedoms in total breach of promises made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered international treaty, no one in either Beijing or the Hong Kong government has been sanctioned.

In May, 110 Parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament wrote to the Foreign Secretary calling for an audit of assets held in the UK by Chinese and Hong Kong officials, with a view to sanctioning them.

If Beijing and its quislings in Hong Kong are not made to face any consequences for destroying Hong Kong’s freedoms, if they know there is no price to pay for ripping up an international treaty, then they are only going to be emboldened to further intensify repression at home and aggression abroad.

Whichever candidate wins, I hope they will act. If it is Truss, I hope she will be liberated from the constraints of Foreign Office traditionalists, Treasury interests and a No 10 ‘cakeist’ China policy and, taking the keys to Downing Street herself, overrule officials and impose sanctions.

If it is Sunak, freshly emancipated from Treasury shackles and newly converted to the cause of burying Operation Kowtow, I hope he will use the levers of power to deploy sanctions.

The debate on China this week is very welcome. But let China policy be more than a political football between two candidates. Let it now develop into a meaningful strategy for the United Kingdom government.

And at least neither candidate will be encumbered by a father who entertains the Chinese ambassador at his home or embarks on a trip to Xinjiang with a Chinese state television camera crew in tow.

The post Benedict Rogers: The Tories have come a long way on China, but there is much more to do appeared first on Conservative Home.

Benedict Rogers: How Parliament, and Tower Hamlets Council, are leading the way on standing up to China

15 Sep

Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign.

All too often we take our institutions of democracy for granted, all the way from the Houses of Parliament to our local councils. Worse, we often mock them, regard them as an annoyance or regard them with disdain. Sometimes with good reason.

But once in a while, some of their office holders surprise us by standing up for principles and values, defending the integrity of their institutions, and displaying considerable courage.

Yesterday was one such day. It was a good day for Britain and our democracy – and a poke in the eye for the world’s most insidiously dangerous threat to freedom, Xi Jinping’s mendacious, criminal and brutal Chinese Communist Party regime.

And the heroes of the story? An unlikely, incongruous band. The Speakers of both Houses of Parliament, Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Lord McFall of Alcluith, and a cross-party group of councillors from Tower Hamlets.

Just after 4pm yesterday afternoon, the news broke that the Speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords had banned the Chinese Ambassador, Zheng Zeguang, from entering the Parliamentary estate to address a reception of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on China tonight.

The rationale? Of course ambassadors of many countries attend meetings in Parliament, including those of repressive regimes that abuse human rights. But the Chinese regime – in addition to committing genocide against the Uyghurs, dismantling Hong Kong’s freedoms in breach of an international treaty, perpetrating atrocities in Tibet, intensifying persecution of Christians, forcibly harvesting human organs from prisoners of conscience, silencing Covid-19 whistleblowers, shutting down civil society, independent media outlets and citizen journalists and disappearing or jailing human rights defenders – has sanctioned five Members of Parliament and two peers.

At least two of those sanctioned Parliamentarians – the former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP and the cross-bench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool – not unreasonably objected to the idea that the Chinese ambassador should be feted in the very Parliament his regime had assaulted. They raised questions in both chambers publicly, and wrote to both houses’ Speakers too.

At the eleventh hour, Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Lord McFall stepped in.

“I regularly hold meetings with ambassadors from across the world to establish enduring ties between countries and parliamentarians,” said Sir Lindsay. He went on:

“But I do not feel it’s appropriate for the ambassador for China to meet on the Commons estate and in our place of work when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our Members. If those sanctions were lifted, then of course this would not be an issue. I am not saying the meeting cannot go ahead. I am just saying it cannot take place here while those sanctions remain in place.”

Some of Beijing’s quislings claim it’s an affront to freedom of expression – ironically, given that Beijing is silencing all dissent. But that’s nonsense. No one is stopping the Chinese ambassador speaking, no one is censoring him and no one is even denying him a platform. The APPG can hold their reception tonight anywhere they like – just not in Parliament, while some of its members are sanctioned by Beijing.

And not only sanctioned – but routinely threatened, intimidated and pressured.

Over the past four years, for example, I know of at least four different MPs who have been directly lobbied by the Chinese embassy to tell me to shut up. On all occasions the MPs concerned, to their credit, politely explained that they were in no position to instruct me, and that even if they tried it would be to no avail, though they did relay the information to me.

Of far greater significance, however, is the fact that the Chinese ambassador overtly attempted to press the British government to silence the Uyghur Tribunal, which concluded on Monday. To actively pressure the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to terminate an entirely independent civil society initiative is a direct threat on our freedoms and an insult to our intelligence.

The tentacles of the Chinese regime have reached too far, too deep, for too long in our political system – and it is so right that the two Speakers have defended Parliament and called time on this criminal gang’s infiltration.

But the other heroes of the story are, if you like, at the other end of the political pole.

The Chinese regime has bought the old Royal Mint, in case you didn’t know, and intends to turn it into its new embassy fortress. Presumably they chose the site for a few reasons – the symbolism of purchasing our former money printer opposite the Tower of London, and the security of hiding away in east London.

What Beijing didn’t realise is that the potential new embassy site lies at the end of Cable Street – where, in 1936, East Enders battled to defend the Jewish community against Oswald Mosley and the fascists. When one considers what Xi’s regime is doing to the Uyghurs, Christians, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and Hong Kongers, there’s a certain resonance.

That’s why a group of councillors from Tower Hamlets – initiated by the inspiring Liberal Democrat Rabina Khan, alongside the leader of the Conservative group on the council, Peter Golds, and Labour councillors – initiated a motion to name streets around the potential new Chinese embassy as “Uyghur Court”, “Tibet Hill” and “Hong Kong Square”.

The motion passed, and yesterday evening, within an hour of the Chinese ambassador being banned from Parliament, a group of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and British supporters gathered outside the Royal Mint to demand that this be implemented. Planning permission for the new embassy construction still has to be approved, so it’s not a done deal.

But if it goes ahead, you can be sure of one thing: in the future, every visitor to the Chinese embassy will have to go through either Uyghur Court, Tibet Hill or Hong Kong Square, a constant reminder of the atrocities committed by the regime represented behind those walls.

So Britain’s fightback against the Chinese regime is underway. These two episodes – within an hour of each other – illustrate that, whether or not our Government is catching up, our elected representatives, civil society and general public are increasingly fed up with Xi’s regime’s appalling repression of peoples within China’s territory and aggression against its critics abroad.

There’s much more to do – especially in instilling some backbone in Whitehall and the City of London. But Parliament and Tower Hamlets are leading the way, and I salute them for that.