Sir Malcolm Rifkind was Foreign Secretary from 1995 until 1997 and was Minister of State in the Foreign Office from 1983-86. He was responsible for the final stage of negotiations with the Chinese Government over the return of Hong Kong to China.
A week today, assuming the constitutional democratic process takes its proper course, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President of the United States.
Immediately, he will face two challenges.
The first is that he is not Donald Trump. He will want to distance himself from everything his predecessor represents: belligerence, intolerance, rage, incompetence, incoherence and unilateralism.
He will want to prove himself to be the multilateralist, internationalist, engagement-minded president – and democrat – that we all hope for.
In some ways, he will make us all heave a sigh of relief.
At the same time, he should reject one of the mistakes of the Obama administration in which he served. Against the tyrants of the world, what counts is strength. Rhetoric, while welcome, must be accompanied by action if it is to mean anything.
And now more than any time there’s a need to stand up to Xi Jinping’s brutal regime in China.
Tonight, a major new report will be launched by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, titled The Darkness Deepens.
More than any other report in recent time, it provides the full catalogue of horrors of what Xi Jinping’s regime is up to, against its own people and against the free world.
Other reports have detailed individually the atrocities against the Uyghurs, the abuses in Tibet, the persecution of Christians, the suppression of dissent and the silencing of liberties in Hong Kong – but few have combined them all. This report weaves this house of horrors together.
It brings together the dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong, the atrocities in Tibet, the assault on freedom of religion and expression throughout China and the persecution of the Uyghurs, in a way that has seldom been combined before.
And it offers ways forward.
Crucially, the report makes clear, it is not anti-China – it is critical of the Chinese Communist Party regime.
The starting point is engagement and dialogue. But the issue is not should we talk, but what should we talk about and how. And an unavoidable topic of conversation should be human rights.
And then the next question is should we trade? And for me the answer is: yes, but on what terms?
Not on terms of bullying and intimidation. Not on ”wolf-warrior diplomacy”. And definitely not by surrendering our values.
And so we need a global response to Beijing’s belligerence, inhumanity and mendacity.
The British barrister Geoffrey Nice, who prosecuted Slobodan Milošević, now chairs an inquiry into atrocities facing the Uyghurs, and previously led an independent tribunal that concluded that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China continues, and constitutes a crime against humanity. In that tribunal’s final judgement, published early last year, the eminent panel of lawyers and experts advise that anyone interacting with the Chinese regime should do so in the knowledge that they are “interacting with a criminal state”. The free world must do more to counter that criminality.
That should mean, as the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission proposes, Britain leading the establishment of an international coalition of democracies to coordinate a global response to the human rights crisis in China, bringing together not only the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and our European allies, but countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others in Asia and beyond.
The British government should do more to help build support for the establishment of a United Nations mechanism to monitor human rights in China, as called for last summer by at least 50 serving UN independent experts and several former UN special rapporteurs, including Zeid Raad al-Hussain, the distinguished former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It is time to look at imposing targeted Magnitsky sanctions against key officials in the Chinese and Hong Kong regimes for serious human rights violations and breaches of international treaties.
We should be looking to diversify supply chains and reduce strategic dependence on China, and put our values and national security first when looking at Chinese investment in critical infrastructure and other sectors.
And while growing claims of genocide against the Uyghurs are not proven, there can be little doubt that what the Chinese regime is doing to the people in Xinjiang reaches the level of mass atrocities and can be considered to be attempted cultural genocide.
Last month an ingenious amendment to the Trade Bill that would prohibit trade deals with states found guilty of genocide was passed in the House of Lords by a majority of 287 to 181. What is striking is that it was introduced and supported by a cross-party group of peers that include Michael Forsyth, the former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord Blencathra, former Conservative Chief Whip, Eric Pickles, former Conservative Party Chairman, along with Helena Kennedy, Labour peer and leading human rights barrister, Lord Alton, cross-bencher and former Liberal chief whip, the Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, bishops and numerous others across the House of Lords including David Hope, the former Supreme Court Justice. This is no collection of rebels, but some of the country’s most distinguished experts in their field, and therefore should be taken seriously.
The Government’s position has always been that it is for the courts, not politicians, to determine genocide, and I agree. But the problem is that our international judicial mechanisms for genocide determination are found wanting, due to the referral requirements and veto power of some countries, and the result all too often is government inaction in the face of mass atrocities. This amendment creates a vehicle, allowing for the High Court of England and Wales to make a determination and, in any given situation that it does so, the government is duty-bound to abandon any trade deals it may have or hope for with the regimes responsible. As Nice says, “no well-ordered state would want to be trading with a genocidal state.”
It is worth noting that this amendment does not apply retrospectively, and it does not violate multilateral trade commitments, only bilateral agreements. It doesn’t preclude further action at an international level – indeed it strengthens the case for it. And – given my own concern that the charge of genocide should only ever be made when there is indisputable evidence of mass killing and proof of intent – it would, according to Nice, “discourage, and probably significantly reduce, casual and often instrumental assertions that genocide is being committed.”
So it may or may not apply to China. But it would signal Britain’s intent – to the Chinese regime and every other brutal dictatorship – that we will not stand by while grave atrocities are committed. For these reasons I hope Members of Parliament will support it when it comes to the House of Commons.
The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report on Xi Jinping’s human rights record follows its previous one in 2016, titled The Darkest Moment. As the Commission acknowledges, the title four and a half years ago was with hindsight a little premature, for the darkness has clearly deepened – hence the title of the new report. It makes sad reading, but it should be read in every foreign ministry in the world. If only the Chinese people could themselves read it too, for then they would realise the degree to which millions of their fellow citizens are persecuted and imprisoned by a cruel regime. That cruelty requires a robust, co-ordinated and effective response by the free world, and I hope Britain – together with the new US administration and our other allies, will lead that effort.