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.

Sarah Ingham: We need political will, not just more legislation, to wean London off Russian cash

18 Mar

Sarah Ingham is author of The Military Covenant: its impact on civil-military relations in Britain.

Among the upsides to living in London’s Eaton Square is that there is never any shortage of the all-too-aptly named Boris bikes in the docking station.

It is, however, safe to assume that most of those who own one of the gleaming white stucco properties in this patch of SW1W are none too bothered about local cycling provision.

Day-to-day factors such as proximity to the Belgravia branch of Waitrose and access to the private garden with its tennis court probably didn’t figure in any decision to buy in what has become known as Red Square – thanks to the allegedly large number of owners from the former Soviet states.

Just around the corner is Belgrave Square, home to yet more Boris bikes and Oleg Deripaska, whose property on Monday was briefly taken over by anarchists, protesting against Moscow’s “special operation” in Ukraine. Occupy Belgravia was surprisingly short-lived, curtailed by the police with the sort of alacrity usually only seen by British taxpayers these days in reruns of The Sweeney.

The oligarch’s mansion in the leafy Surrey enclave of St George’s Hill was on the market for £18.5 million last week – until the estate agents involved dropped it as if it were polonium 210. Given that the owners of the 420 houses in the manicured gated community with its top-flight security are like a gathering of the United Nations, it is fitting that George is not only patron saint of England, but of Moscow and many outposts in between.

If Monday’s emergency Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act were part of a radio play, sound effects would include slamming doors and galloping hooves. As Priti Patel stated, Vladimir Putin’s cronies have hidden dirty money in the UK and across the West ‘and we do not want it here’. Yeah, right. Da, koneshno.

As if following Putin in one of his show-offy Epiphany plunges into icy cold water, Britain is being abruptly awakened to its collusion in kleptocracy, global money laundering, and illicit dodges. It is chastening to realise that this country might be regarded in the same ethical light as one of those rusting broken-down ships flagged by Panama.

The 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury, the Magnitsky legislation, the mysterious deaths of Boris Berezovsky, Alexander Perepilichnyy (and about a dozen others…), Chelski FC and McMafia; bodyguards and armour-plated G-wagons on west London(grad)’s streets, where suspiciously over-inflated prices are paid for property (“£19 million for that, there?”)…

No-one can say that over the past two decades Britain wasn’t warned about Russia being looted and its money ending up in one of our laundromats, either here or in offshore havens such as the British Virgin Islands.

Some bankers, lawyers and accountants have behaved less like professionals guided by codes of ethical conduct and more like Widow Twankey, laundering reputations and funds, helped along by dubious instruments such as shell companies. As Oliver Bullough, author of Butler to the World, stated this week, ‘Whatever the scam is, Britain is always involved.’

Perhaps many who have profited from the oligarchs and their ilk like to think of themselves as heirs to the 18th-century East India Company buccaneers. The UK’s Kleptocracy Problem, published by Chatham House in December, will put them right. And, more damningly, as the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia Report set out, there are some British ‘enablers’ who are wittingly or unwittingly ‘de facto agents of the Russian state’.

After 20 years, at least in the context of the former Soviet Union, this merry carousel of collusion in plunder and gangsterism has come a shuddering halt, thanks to the invasion of Ukraine.

Monday’s Act was promised to be an introduction to more stringent measures, including the reform of Companies House. But, yet again, we have legislation-for-legislation’s-sake; and the Government scrambling to be seen to be doing something, anything.

Why not enforce the panoply of existing law? Yes, end Golden Visas, but also pursue more than four cases which might result in Unexplained Wealth Orders.

What has become apparent is not a shortage of legislation relating to dodgy dosh but, as a briefing by the Royal United Services Institute’s Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies outlined on Tuesday, a dearth of enforcement agents. Royal Assent is not required to remedy a lack of political will.

Sanctions are instruments of foreign policy. Liz Truss argues that Britain is ‘leading the way’, with more than 1,000 individuals and entities now sanctioned, including a Russian troll farm and oligarchs with combined wealth of more than £100 billion.

As part of the West’s ratcheting up the financial pressure on Russia, steel producer Evraz has been delisted from the London Stock Exchange, not least because of claims it provides the raw material to make Russian tanks, which the company denies. Evraz’s 2020 Annual Report suggests that almost 10 per cent of institutional shareholders with voting rights are in the UK.  This might well include British pension funds, underlining the intertwined nature of the global economy.

Roman Abramovich’s super-yachts drifting around the seas like the Flying Dutchman, sanctions piling up, Moscow’s foreign currency reserves frozen …

“The sinews of war are endless money.”  Roman statesman Cicero (106-43BCE) would have understood that if Europe were serious about stopping the war in Ukraine, the EU’s recent ban on the export of luxury goods to Russia is gesture so petty it must be almost laughable to those Ukrainians on the ground battling against the invader. Chanel handbags at dawn – as the Red Army never said.

Last year, Russia exported almost half its crude oil, three-quarters of its natural gas and one-third of its coal to Europe: “A $1billion-a-day Russia energy habit”, as Fortune headlined. Three days after the invasion – illegal, illegitimate, and contrary to the tenets of just war – Dymtro Kubela, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, called for a full embargo on Russia’s oil and gas: “Buying them now means paying for the murder of Ukrainian men, women and children.”

The greater the instability, and the more commodity prices rise (including for wheat and fertiliser), the more Moscow earns. And the more Moscow earns, the longer it will be able to finance the war. Meanwhile, the US bans the import of Russian caviar and vodka, while Britain imposes a 35 per cent import tariff on fur coats.

Slava Ukraini.