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.

Ben Roback: The Wuhan lab-leak theory. Does the world owe Trump an apology?

2 Jun

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

After courting President Xi over golf and dessert, Donald Trump made being a China hawk an accepted norm of his presidency. You can watch three minutes of Trump saying “China” in idiosyncratically Trumpian fashion on YouTube, with clips that long pre-date his time in the White House. For Trump the businessman, China was an opportunity. As a politician it became more of a threat.

It was therefore no surprise when Trump identified China as a scapegoat and began to blame the source of the Covid-19 outbreak on the Chinese state.

The theory goes that the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China. It deserves investigation and should not be dismissed out of hand. A previously undisclosed US intelligence report revealed that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care.

The next month, cases of pneumonia were detected in Wuhan and first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). In January, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced the first death caused by the “novel coronavirus”. One of the final acts of the Trump administration in January was to release a State Department fact sheet on “Activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology“. It was ultimately inconclusive in its recommendation:

The US government does not know exactly where, when, or how the Covid-19 virus – known as SARS-CoV-2 – was transmitted initially to humans. We have not determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

Instead, it called heavily on the need for a true and thorough investigation into the source of the outbreak – something the Chinese state continues to block with full force, proving the desperate lack of power held within the WHO.

A Trump theory goes mainstream

Most things Trump said during his presidency became intensely politicised and an immediate anathema to Democrats and never-Trump Republicans. If the president said it, it was unconscionable for a Sen. Mitt Romney or Sen. Chuck Schumer. Could that change?

“In recent months, our nation and the world has been hit by the once-in-a-century pandemic that China allowed to spread around the globe,” Trump said at his speech accepting the GOP nomination in August 2020.

The Wuhan lab theory was seized on by Trump allies and acolytes on political talk shows. The “China virus” effectively became a Republican talking point (and with it, anti-Asian discrimination rose in the United States). That took the non-political, science-led impetus away from the theory.

Democrats and the functions of the US Government are coming round to the idea. Closer to home, in an interview with Canadian news, even Boris Johnson said he had an “open mind” about the origin of the virus.

Joe Biden would do well to differentiate between Trump’s – plausible but hitherto unproven – claim that Covid-19 was an intentional weapon distributed by the Chinese government.

One step back from that position, there is a clear and pressing need for a thorough investigation into the source of the outbreak to take place. The Chinese government, for all its smoke and mirrors, should not be allowed to eternally defy the United Nations and World Health Organization. It makes a mockery of global institutions like the UN and WHO if they cannot dilute disagreements in international relations and investigate matters of global significance like this.

The signs are beginning to emerge that the Biden presidency is taking the Wuhan theory seriously. Last week, President Biden ordered intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to investigate the origins of Covid-19.

A report is expected on the president’s desk within 90 days. We will know in the autumn whether Trump will have been proven right, although his credibility when it comes to intelligence reports was diminished owing to several acts of self-sabotage having chosen to politicise reports and go against the US intelligence community.

This all proves that the Wuhan theory has now moved significantly in US political discourse. It was once a talking point for Republicans and Trump sycophants on Fox News, at CPAC and in the gilded halls of Mar-a-Lago. No Republican ever lost friends or votes blaming the pandemic on China.

A favoured stump speech topic of the likes of Trump, Mike Pompeo and Tom Cotton has now found its way firmly into the mainstream. In less than 90 days’ time, Trump could be vindicated. The “full investigation” sought by the US government seems inevitably impossible. Chinese state obstructionism will continue unchallenged. It will place an ongoing strain on US-China relations for years to come.

Philip Mitchell and Chris Goddard: 2020 was a reality check on China. Trade offers opportunities for the UK to assert its values.

15 Feb

Chris Goddard and Philip Mitchell are both members of Lewes Conservative Political Forum.

2020 provided a reality check in relation to China: no longer was it enough to promise, as the Cameron and May administrations had done, that Britain was “open for business” and that unpleasant features of Chinese nationalism could be overlooked because of trade. The scaling back of Huawei technology by Johnson provided a foretaste of a harder-edged response to growing Chinese influence throughout the world coupled with a realisation that, while trade normalises relations, it does not cure aggression or safeguard human rights.

Three events in particular have bought that reality into sharp focus. First, the introduction of the Hong Kong security law as an excuse to snuff out the remnants of democracy in that beleaguered territory has made plain that China regards any interference in its “internal affairs” as illegitimate and indeed worthy of denunciation – so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy”.

Second, as Nus Ghani has recently pointed out in these pages, there is increasing evidence that China has committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, prompting the US already to take punitive action in the form of its Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act.

The UK’s response has so far been limited to outbursts of righteous indignation from the Foreign Secretary. Ghani has (unsuccessfully) proposed that the current Trade Bill includes a provision whereby trade with nations can be restrained by the courts if genocide is adjudged to have taken place.

Third we have the widely reported news that Ofcom has revoked the broadcasting licence of the CGTN – the overseas division of Chinese Central Television – on the grounds that, contrary to the conditions of its licence, CGTN is not an independent entity but is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and echoes its political line (for instance on Hong Kong).

It’s ironical that this move emanates from a mere regulatory body rather than any grave political decision, and yet it is likely to cause the most damage in future relations. This is because China does not recognise that administrators can act independently of governments and a political motive is automatically attributed.

A crucial dilemma has thus arisen for UK policy makers: is it right to call out China for its alleged abuses, being prepared to countenance a period of diplomatic deep freeze of a sort currently existing with Putin’s Russia? Or do we have to accept that the Chinese are likely to respond actively to what they see as hostility, and likely damage the substantial trading relationship which the two countries currently enjoy?

Trade and Environment

As for UK-China trade, the UK imports £49 billion worth of Chinese goods while China imports from the UK £31 billion. While this is a substantial figure and the imbalance does not seem outrageous, it should be remembered that the population difference between the two countries means that the UK per capita amount is approximately £1,500 while for China it is only £25.

Ordinary consumers are not necessarily aware of this – and perhaps they don’t care – as although packaging will show the country of origin, there is no such requirement with online sales. At a time when the UK is urgently looking to improve its trading relationships with countries beyond the EU, is it sensible to risk this massive trade?

Also, if Britain is serious about net zero emissions, it must export pollution to manufacturing countries such as China to reach its targets. The choice is either to abandon those targets, unpalatable with COP26 imminent, or accept ever greater overseas dependence.

Recent Assertiveness

China has always needed overseas trade to sustain its double-digit annual growth but counterparties have become wary of sharp practices, such as appropriation of intellectual property and distortion of markets by selling at uneconomic prices. A current example is the sale unto the UK of MG electric cars. China now owns this former British brand and offers attractive models at prices with which other manufacturers could not reasonably compete.

Not only has it financed many infrastructure projects in developing counties with grants or loans at attractive rates, but China has increased its influence in organisations such as the UN and the WHO by agreeing to fund projects which increase its profile or directly benefit its Belt and Road programme .

This assertiveness has become increasingly political. The example of Hong Kong has already been given, for which the suppression of freedom in Tibet is the now-forgotten forerunner. Displays of military might in the South China Sea are of concern to its immediate neighbours. Australia and China are at serious loggerheads over various issues, with China openly faking pictures of Australian soldiers harming children in order to punish Canberra over trade embargo threats. There is no subtlety in its recent diplomacy.

Action Together

China is a proud country and is replacing Russia as a superpower. No country including the UK can afford to treat it as a pariah state. Yet the continuance of trade offers opportunities for criticism and negotiation provided the West stands together to call out abuses. With its economy faltering, the CCP will arguably not want to fight on too many fronts. While the UN, WHO and WTO are unlikely to be effective vehicles for moderation, the UK can utilise its post-Brexit freedoms and bilateral trade alliances to provide support to countries who want to stand up to Beijing. What it cannot do is act alone, a paper tiger in a post-Imperial world.

David Green: The new Commission on Unalienable Rights allows us to compare America and Communist China

3 Aug

David Green is CEO of Civitas.

Is it time for a change of policy towards China? As we rethink our strategy, instead of referring to China, we should speak of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to remind ourselves that we are dealing with an authoritarian dictatorship. We will constantly misunderstand Chinese rulers if we fail to recognise a simple truth: the ruling party in China is an organisation for keeping power in its own hands. It is as much in conflict with the Chinese people as with foreigners, as the experience of Hong Kong has reminded us.

The party doesn’t even have the excuse of believing that its high ideals justify violent methods. Everything is an instrument for keeping power. If voicing highfalutin ideals helps, then they will be proclaimed. If ideals widely shared in human history are obstacles, such as universal values and an autonomous civil society, then they will be denounced. Power is everything.

In the West, we are reluctant to think that a regime could be quite that bad. There is good in all of us and we never stop looking for it. But the internal documents of the CCP repeatedly give the game away. Take one prime example, the infamous Document Number Nine, distributed to party leaders in 2012 soon after Xi Jinping came to power. It was leaked the following year and we know that the person responsible was jailed for seven years for revealing state secrets. They didn’t want us to know about it. A translation is freely available on the website of the online publication, ChinaFile.

The document highlights seven false ideological trends found among the Chinese people. The first is promoting Western constitutional democracy, whose dubious characteristics include the separation of powers, the multi-party system, general elections, and an independent judiciary. The goal of Chinese enthusiasts for Western constitutional democracy is seen as undermining the CCP’s leadership and abolishing the People’s Democracy.

The second target is the promotion of universal values. Chinese people who champion them aim to “weaken the theoretical foundations of the Party’s leadership” and supplant the core values of socialism.

The third ideological tenet is “promoting civil society in an attempt to dismantle the ruling party’s social foundation”. This dubious doctrine holds that individual rights are paramount and that they “ought to be immune to obstruction by the state”. But advocates of civil society want to “squeeze the party out of leadership of the masses at the local level”. The fourth target is the neoliberal market economy, which aims to “weaken the government’s control of the national economy”.

The fifth target is promoting the West’s idea of journalism, which challenges “China’s principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to party discipline”. The ultimate goal of advocating Western-style journalism “is to hawk the principle of abstract and absolute freedom of press, oppose the party’s leadership in the media, and gouge an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology”.

Sixth is promoting “historical nihilism” or questioning the CCP’s interpretation of the past. The aim is “to fundamentally undermine the CCP’s historical purpose, which is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of the CCP’s long-term political dominance”.

Finally there is questioning reform and “the socialist nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics”. If these ideas are allowed to spread, “they will disturb people’s existing consensus on important issues”. Within China’s borders, some private organisations were creating “reactionary underground publications”, filming documentaries on “sensitive subject matter”, and “defaming the party and the national leadership”.

The seven ideological trends must be resisted by strengthening “leadership in the ideological sphere” and forcefully resisting “influential and harmful false tides of thoughts”. The party must not permit “the dissemination of opinions that oppose the party’s theory or political line”. There must be “unwavering adherence to the principle of the party’s control of media”. We must persist in “correct guidance of public opinion, insisting that the correct political orientation suffuse every domain and process in political engagement, form, substance, and technology”.

Finally, the party must reinforce our management of “all types and levels of propaganda” and “allow absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread”. The party must “strengthen guidance of public opinion on the Internet” and “purify the environment of public opinion on the Internet”.

If the document had aimed to define totalitarianism as succinctly as possible, it could hardly have done a better job. As it happens the US State Department has just published the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which allows us to compare America and Communist China.

There are plenty of Americans who criticise their own country, most notably for failure in race relations, and there are some who detect a whiff of unbridled power seeking in President Trump’s proposal to delay the November election. He was, however, overruled by Congress within a few hours (whereas no one in China can overrule the supreme leader).

The report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is a nuanced defence of a free society, which steadfastly defends its own values without arrogance or righteousness. The preface begins with an acknowledgement of America’s faults. With recent racial divisions in mind, it says:

“With the eyes of the world upon her, America must show the same honest self-examination and efforts at improvement that she expects of others. America’s dedication to unalienable rights – the rights all human beings share – demands no less.”

The report reaffirms America’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) because it reflects America’s founding values. Perhaps with China in mind, the report asserts that there can be no moral equivalence between “rights-respecting countries that fall short in progress toward their ideals” and countries that “regularly and massively trample on their citizens’ human rights”.

Maybe the sharpest contrast with Document Number Nine is found in the declaration that “in a free society, the laws will leave a vast range of human activity to the conscience of each” and in its reminder that the US Constitution protects freedom of speech “by declining to give Congress the power to pass laws prescribing or proscribing beliefs, utterances, and publications”.

The report urges the American Government to defend human rights with renewed vigour, with pride in what has been accomplished, combined with humility born of the awareness of her own “shortcomings and imperfections”. But, it proclaims that in the war of ideas between liberal democracy and autocracy, “the uneven progress of liberal democracies does not invalidate the lofty goals to which they are dedicated”.

About the same time as Document Number Nine was being sent to Communist leaders, our own David Cameron and George Osborne were declaring a “golden era” in relations with China. Looking back we can perhaps see that this was one of the biggest foreign-policy blunders of recent times.