Benedict Rogers: Leaders have 24 hours to send a clear message to the CCP on its human rights abuses

28 Oct

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.

Over the next 24 hours in Rome, as G20 world leaders gather for their summit, an unprecedented meeting of legislators and campaigners from around the world is taking place, focused on the biggest challenge the world faces: China.

The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) was only formed just over a year ago, and yet already includes over 200 Parliamentarians in 21 legislatures across five continents.

Crucially, it is one of the most global and cross-party coalitions ever, drawing together politicians such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the British Conservative Party, and Senator Marco Rubio, former US Republican Presidential candidate, with Robert Menendez, senior Democrat Senator, Reinhard Butikofer, the leader of the German Greens in the European Parliament, Kimberley Kitching, Australia’s Labour Senator, Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former Attorney-General and parliamentarians from countries as diverse as Norway, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Japan, Uganda and beyond.

Many of IPAC’s members arrive in Rome today for a gathering that will hear from Joseph Wu, Taiwan’s foreign minister, the ‘Sikyong’ Penpa Tsering, Tibet’s political leader, Nathan Law, Hong Kong’s exiled former legislator and political prisoner, and Rahima Mahmut, the Uyghur campaigner – all the voices Beijing tries relentlessly to discredit and silence.

The reason this alternative summit is so important is that it is designed to send a clear message to the G20: the Chinese Communist Party regime must not be given a free pass, its human rights atrocity crimes cannot be allowed to go unchallenged and the international community must set out clear consequences for Beijing’s flagrant breaches of international treaties. Kowtowing must end, the climate of impunity must cease and Xi Jinping’s regime must be held to account.

The IPAC gathering will make clear that the genocide of the Uyghurs, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms – happening before our very eyes – as well as the persecution of Christians, Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, human rights defenders, citizen journalists and civil society activists – must not be forgotten.

Already, even despite Amnesty International’s closure of its Hong Kong office on Monday and the statement by 43 countries at the United Nations last week about the plight of the Uyghurs, these issues are being sidelined.

As COP26 begins this Sunday in Glasgow, the message should be clear: climate change is a big challenge of our time, but human rights should not be sacrificed on the greenwashing line.

Indeed, climate change and human rights should go together, for what good is freedom if our planet is dying, yet at the same time what good are blue skies if humanity is in chains? And, one might add, how trustworthy anyway is the world’s biggest polluter, China, when its regime lies and breaks its international treaty promises?

And then there’s Taiwan. Xi Jinping has ratcheted up not only the rhetoric but the fighter jets, plunging the region into the most dangerous period in decades. The free world – indeed the entire international community – needs to be clear about what it will do if China invades Taiwan: and it must spell it out unambiguously to Beijing as a deterrent.

The mood in the free world is clearly shifting. President Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have already indicated that concerns over the Chinese Communist Party’s repression and aggression is a bipartisan matter, perhaps the only topic that unites Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The European Union shows some signs of shift, with Josep Borrell, its policy chief, defending closer ties with Taiwan. And Liz Truss, Britain’s new Foreign Secretary, has given multiple messages that while trade with China could continue, we must reduce strategic dependency, diversify supply chains and cement an alliance for democracy around the world.

The direction of travel for the free world is clear. It is simply a matter now of accelerating the pace. IPAC’s gathering in Rome is designed to urge the G20 on.

Let’s not wait for an invasion of Taiwan. Let’s act now to stop Beijing’s genocide against the Uyghurs, dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, repression in Tibet, persecution of all its critics and aggression towards freedom itself, including our own. And Britain, together with our allies, should lead this fight.

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.

Rehman Chishti and Knox Thames: Freedom of religion is under threat. Trans-Atlantic efforts can combat that.

12 Oct

Rehman Chishti is an MP and the former UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on FoRB. Knox Thames served as the US Special Advisor on Religious Minorities at the State Department for both the Obama and Trump administrations.  

The United States and the United Kingdom have worked closely on joint efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) worldwide. It’s a reflection of our shared values, and the partnership presents a unique opportunity for joint action. And the time to act is now.

Religious repression is at all-time highs, with the Pew Forum reporting 84 per cent of the global community lives in countries with high or very high restrictions on faith practices. That’s not to say everyone is persecuted, but that the space for freedom of conscience is shrinking. People of all faiths and worldviews are affected by these trends, which have implications beyond human rights, including international security and the growth of violent religious extremism.

Solving a problem this large requires diverse coalitions. Through our work, we recognised the substantial advantages of partnerships with like-minded governments. Thankfully, there is unprecedented interest in a new trans-Atlantic effort to promote this fundamental freedom.

In the UK, the Truro report, launched the day after Christmas in 2018 by Jeremy Hunt, the then UK Foreign Secretary, specifically examined persecuted Christians. The report found troubling examples of Christian persecution, but noted that other communities also suffer, and recommended Her Majesty’s government do more to assist all persons persecuted for their beliefs. I (Chishti) was tasked with setting the 22 recommendations into policy, getting 17 into place before leaving office.

In the US, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 created a special ambassador at large on the issue and office, as well as required the annual reporting on religious freedom conditions worldwide. During the Trump administration, the State Department convened two ministerial-level summits that elevated the issue and launched a new Alliance to bring together the most committed countries on advancing religious freedom for all.

We both believe that holistically advocating for everyone’s right, as opposed to singularly focused on just one community, is the best approach. We grounded our activities in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of conscience, the right to change faith or have no faith, meet alone or with others for worship, and share one’s religious views. While, of course, we should speak out when individual groups face persecution, we must do so in the context of advocating for the right of religious freedom for all. A balanced approach focused on the right will ensure space for all beliefs.

Why? We’ve seen that it’s the most durable path to guaranteeing the right over the long haul. Environments where every individual is free to seek truth as their conscience leads is one where every community can thrive. In contrast, narrowly focused efforts, such as Christian persecution by Hungary or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s concentration on Muslim persecution, will most likely fall short of their long-term goals. It’s not that Christian and Muslim persecution isn’t happening – it most definitely is, and we must speak out.

But an environment providing freedom of conscience for all will ensure that individual communities can survive in the future. Otherwise, we risk creating religious Bantustans of special exemptions or carve-outs benefiting specific groups.

Working closely with Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, we instilled this approach into the new International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance and its founding charter. Alongside our Dutch and Brazilian counterparts, the UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, and key civil society experts, we helped build an organisation of 30+ nations from different regional, political, and religious backgrounds. Of course, none of these countries are perfect, but they all agreed to uphold their Article 18 commitments at home and abroad, including contentious issues like conversion and free speech.

Working together with those committed to the same principles can meet the challenges of today. For instance, the Alliance devised new strategies to advocate for all, such as a statement on Covid to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t become a pretext to limit religious freedom. Another vital network we participated in with Canada – the International Contact Group for FoRB – was also grounded in this religious-freedom-for-all approach.

In the face of new challenges and opportunities, progress will depend on North American and European leadership. The challenges facing religious freedom are beyond the capabilities or influence of any one government or organisation. Fortunately, our common understanding creates a platform for coordinated and elevated activity. Now, in addition to the US and UK envoys, others exist in several countries and organisations: Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, EU, the Netherlands, Norway, OSCE, Poland, Romania, Sweden, and the United Nations.

The time is right for a more assertive trans-Atlantic approach, but parliamentarians and governments must demonstrate a lasting commitment to the right. Freedom of thought, conscience, and belief isn’t a conservative or liberal value or some sideshow to other issues, but a fundamental human right relevant to people of all faiths and none worldwide. It deserves the full attention of the international community.

Pressing repressive governments toward reform will not be easy or costless. China is playing hardball, with its persecution of UighursTibetansChristians, and the pressuring of countries daring to speak out. Pakistan’s abusive blasphemy law is in overdrive, while India is taking a wrong turn against minorities. Burma’s genocide against the Rohingya grinds on, while Christians in Nigeria suffer from Boko Haram.

In response, networking efforts among like-minded allies can share the burden and multiply the effectiveness of bilateral engagements. For instance, sanctions and other corrective measures like the Magnitsky act, which our countries have implemented, can create political leverage to encourage change. Hopefully, others in Europe will follow. Speaking out on specific cases is another example, such as on Yemen or blasphemy laws. To further elevate, our countries can use our UN Security Council seats to press for reforms. We can share data and train diplomats. All European and North American countries can immediately response to atrocity crimes, including genocide, or establish early warning systems.

More action is desperately needed. Governments must take this human right seriously and incorporate concerns across their policies. People of faith must speak up for persecuted believers (and non-believers) from other communities, to stand in solidarity with the repressed. Religious leaders should tackle this issue head-on, using their pulpits to advocate for soul freedom of all.

Everyone speaking up for everyone, even outside their belief system, is most impactful for the global effort. By working together, as rights-respecting communities on each side of the Atlantic, we can make a difference.