Tim Loughton: So – no Wuhan holiday home for me. Yes, I’ve been sanctioned by China. But it won’t stop me speaking out.

28 Mar

Tim Loughton is MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and is a former Education Minister.

What adjective do you use for a group of nine democrats calling out human rights abuses by the world’s largest totalitarian state? We have the Famous Five and the Magnificent Seven and After Eights even, but nine seems to be a particularly under-appreciated digit. Nine pins doesn’t really cut it.

Thus it was that I woke up on Friday morning – or, rather, was woken up by my Twitter feed going berserk in the early hours to find that I have been included on the list of nine Britons sanctioned by the Chinese Government for spreading ‘lies and disinformation’ about the epitome of benevolent paternalism that is the Chinese Government.

I am in good company with four other Conservative MPs, two members of the Lords, an eminent lawyer and an academic together with some random mostly Tory-minded research groups.

As apparently no other Britons have been personally sanctioned before, it is not clear exactly what it entails. I have received no formal letter from Comrade Xi. Should I be awaiting a DHL speedy delivery bearing an official ‘certificate of debarment’? From what I read on social media, it would appear that I and my family will be barred from entering mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong, all my assets and business interests in China will be seized and Chinese officials will be prevented from engaging with me.

Fortunately, I have no plans for a holiday home in Wuhan and resisted the lure of investing in Uighur forced labour sweatshops in Xinjian, so I am not going to lose too much sleep. But if the Chinese Government thinks it can apply to British Parliamentarians the same level of censorship and suppression of free speech that pervades their own citizens, most recently extended to Hong Kong, they have badly miscalculated.

Indeed, given the tsunami of supportive emails and comments from around the world and everyone from Joe Biden to Boris Johnson, the move appears to have backfired badly for the Chinese Government. Instead, its actions are acting as a recruiting sergeant for those coming forward to call out China’s ‘industrial scale’ human rights’ abuses, as our Foreign Secretary rightly described it.

This week, Government ministers, acting in unison with EU states and our American and Canadian allies, applied Magnitsky sanctions to certain Chinese officials, complicit in human rights abuses. The seven Parliamentarians now sanctioned warmly and vociferously welcomed this move, and have urged the British Government to go further. Bizarrely, it is we ‘Nonentity Nine’ who are now the target of Chinese reprisals, not members of the Government itself nor Government officials.

The action lays bare the Chinese Government’s complete lack of understanding of how democracies work. The ‘crime’ of British Parliamentarians is to call out what many see as constituting genocide against the Uighur people by the Chinese Government, on top of 62 years of suppressing the people of Tibet resulting in deaths of more than a million Tibetans.

But that is what democratically elected MPs should do, without fear or favour, yet in return we are now sanctioned by China. We call out genocide; they actually carry it out. These moves are a breach of Parliamentary privilege, and so a challenge to the people who elect our Parliamentarians.

Frankly, I have surely been on borrowed time for a while now. For several decades, I have championed the cause of the Tibetan people. It was the first ever political march I went on as a spotty teenager, to the Chinese Embassy bearing Tibetan flags.

I Chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group For Tibet, and have had the privilege of welcoming the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Sikyong (President) to Parliament several times, despite the now notorious attempts of David Cameron to kow-tow to the Chinese Government, and ban ministers from meeting them.

At times, standing up for the Tibetan people, the most peace-loving and put-upon people in all the world, has been a rather lonely vigil. But the international focus on the extraordinary atrocities inflicted on the Uighur minority in Xinjian province from satellite images of corralled prisoners in detention camps to accounts of forcibly sterilised Uighur women, has put Chinese human rights’ abuses firmly on the international radar. We are no longer voices in the wilderness.

This latest inept measure by the Chinese regime will be hugely counter-productive. For too many years, they have got away with it because condemnations by Governments of all colours amounted to strong words, with little follow through. But this act is a wake-up call to all democratic nations and freedom loving people everywhere. We sanctioned MPs are more determined than ever to make sure the Chinese regime faces serious consequences for its atrocities, and our voices will now be louder and heard further afield.

In the last few weeks, the Government has been emboldened to bring forward significant practical measures. Key officials have been sanctioned, but not nearly enough. British businesses are prevented from dealing with Chinese companies complicit in Uighur forced labour factories, though not yet widely enough.

Whilst we did not persuade the Government to go all the way in making genocide a key consideration of the Trade Bill, it moved a long way, and genocide and the Chinese regime are words now regularly occurring in the same sentence in regular parlance. This is a good start – but only a start.

The international allegiances that are being formed between foreign ministers and the cross-border scope of Parliamentarians striking common cause through the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) are making a difference, and clearly China is getting riled. If they want to be treated as twenty-first century major power there are basic global standards they need to adopt, and not trying to crush the culture of inconvenient minorities is pretty basic.

Hand in hand with abuse of its people goes China’s abuse of the planet too. As the world’s biggest polluters, where their contribution to global warming is melting the glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau which water over a quarter of the world’s population, the Chinese need to be held to account environmentally too, and we must make sure that happens at COP26.

So, as Iain Duncan Smith said, I will wear my inclusion on the sanctions list as a ‘badge of honour.’ If it means more people more focused on standing up to the world’s biggest human rights’ abuser, even if I personally will be denied access to the delights of a Wuhan wet market, I will happily take one for the team.

Johnson – “Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people”

13 Mar

The Integrated Review will be published on Tuesday.  That’s to say, the Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, to give the document its full title.  Boris Johnson will make a Commons statement.

And he steps up the pre-publicity today by saying that the review will commit to a new, full spectrum approach to the UK’s cyber capability – announcing the establishment of a ‘cyber corridor’ across the North of England and, he claims, thousands of jobs. The Prime Minister said:

“Cyber power is revolutionising the way we live our lives and fight our wars, just as air power did 100 years ago. We need to build up our cyber capability so we can grasp the opportunities it presents while ensuring those who seek to use its powers to attack us and our way of life are thwarted at every turn.

“Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people, promote our interests around the world and make the lives of British people better every day.”

The Government says that opening a new headquarters for the National Cyber Force (NCF) in the North of England will drive growth in the tech, digital and defence sectors outside of London, and help create new partnerships between government, the sector and universities in the region.

The NCF was created last year to transform the UK’s capacity to conduct targeted offensive cyber operations against terrorists, hostile states and criminal gangs – drawing together personnel from both defence and the intelligence agencies under one unified command.

Opening the HQ of the NCF in the North of England will drive growth in the tech, digital and defence sectors outside of London and help create new partnerships between government, the sector and universities in the region, Government sources claim.

They add that “the review will set out the importance of cyber technology to Britain’s way of life – whether by defeating enemies on the battlefield, making the internet a safer place or developing cutting-edge tech to improve people’s lives”.

Defence currently sustains more than 35,000 jobs in the North West of England alone. Ten thousand people are employed in maritime design in Barrow and 12,000 people work in advanced aerospace engineering and manufacturing at Samlesbury Aerospace Enterprise Zone, where the UK is producing the fifth generation F-35 stealth aircraft.

In addition to the NCF,  last year saw the creation of the 13th Signals Regiment, the first dedicated cyber regiment, and expanded the Defence Cyber School. These capabilities will play a part in operations, including HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first global deployment this year.

We now wait to see what mix of cyber and conventional capabilities the review proposes; what it says about the major foreign policy and security challenges, and where development fits in – as the Government prepares to abandon the 0.7 per cent GNI aid target, at least temporarily.

The challenges should shape the capabilities – on paper, anyway, though that is more often than not the case in the breach than the observance.  If the review stresses, say, naval and cyber capability at the expense of the army, what does that imply for the potential defence of the Baltic states from Russia?

What is Boris Johnson’s position on China, where the UK’s trade and security interests are at odds, Conservative backbenchers are in revolt over China’s abominable treatment of the Uighars, and Dominic Raab, this very day, has accused China of breaching the joint declaration on Hong Kong?

Finally, does the Government now believe that there is no major third threat to Britain’s security – from Islamist extremism, which dominated the security conversation from 9/11 through 7.7 to the murder of Lee Rigby and beyond? It didn’t get so much as a mention in the Prime Minister’s recent speech to the Munich Security Conference.

The review’s launch this week will be followed by a Defence White Paper next: that’s the document in which cuts and scalebacks will be announced.  A procurement review will come in its wake.

Meanwhile, there’s at least one select committee report in the immediate pipeline – the Defence Select Committee report on procurement itself.  Busy times for the Ministry of Defence in the immediate future then,.

Richard Holden: Biden’s inauguration this week boosts Britain’s new opportunity to pivot to the world

18 Jan

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

Office of Richard Holden, Medomsley Rd, Consett.

Some readers will have seen and many more heard of the hit American musical, Hamilton. I saw it and loved so much that I went back again a few months later to see it a second time.

One of the songs that stuck with me, even though it isn’t one of the top tunes from the show, is called “One Last Time”. It’s about George Washington’s decision to step aside rather than continue to fight for further terms as President. Washington tells Hamilton that he’s doing so to teach the fledgeling republic “how to say goodbye.”

Sadly, the turmoil in the United States that has gripped the world in the last few weeks stands in stark contrast to Washington’s idealism. The vanity of a soon-to-be former President and the violent protests he caused are appalling.

And most shamefully, what could have been a moment of unity for the United States and a marker to the world about democracy and the peaceful transition of power has distracted from a real totalitarian government elsewhere: the moves by the Chinese Communist Party to end the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong, plus its continued oppression of the Uighur people.

Amidst this melee, a new US President will be inaugurated. He has already signalled his intent to re-establish the role of the United States on the world stage. The United Kingdom is busily involved with this change, too, following Brexit and is rightly pursuing it – especially in relation to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP for short).

The global ‘pivot to the Indo-Pacific’ has been going on for some time, and CPTPP provides two things. Most importantly, reduced tariff barriers to a new free trade zone with the established (Australia, Canada, Japan etc) and emerging and growing (Vietnam, Mexico, Chile, etc) economies of the Pacific rim. Second, with 13 per cent of global GDP (16 per cent if the UK joins) working together, this provides a strong counter-weight that, if the UK joins, will be as large as China economically.

To take advantage of this emerging space of global power, the UK needs to demonstrate that we’re up for being a long-term partner to the region via the CPTPP. Importantly, such a move would ensure that we can retain our place, with our new-found status as a newly independent trading nation, as the pre-eminent global hub for business – especially legal and financial services and high specification manufacturing exports.

Critically, as the global coronavirus pandemic has shown too, we’ve got to both look at better domestic supply chains, but also at more diverse international supply chains. That means looking further than just China to broader partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. That’s especially critical as we push to be global champions of free trade and fighting protectionism – while also tied to a rules-based international system of countries that respect the rule of law,

Following Brexit, Liz Truss and her team at the Department of International Trade have been busily signing trade deals around the world – the ones that some people said we couldn’t do or would be wouldn’t be as good for Britain, but have proved quite the opposite. The UK already has or is in the late stages of, bilateral trade agreements with nine out of the 11 existing CPTPP member countries.

With UK investments in CPTPP countries at £98 billion, these countries accounting for £111 billion worth of UK trade in 2019  and trade growing at eight per cent a year, joining now opens the way to putting nitrous oxide into our tank for increase trade with the Indo-Pacific region.

With the CPTPP removing tariffs on 95 per cent of goods traded between members and cutting other barriers to trade, there would be boosts to such sectors such as the automotive one, which exported £3 billion in cars to the CPTPP countries last year. This is massively important to help level up our regions with good, private sector jobs, which are the basis for funding our public services.

With the United Kingdom having just taken up the presidency of the G7, a new US president in place imminently, and increasing revulsion around the world at the way China is treating both the Uighur people and the people of Hong Kong, there is a new opportunity. For a new internationalism with the twin aims of rules based international security and rules based international trade in which Global Britain can play a crucial role. Accessing the CPTPP and building those bridges worldwide is a natural next step that Britain should now take with confidence.

Chris Whitehouse: Raab delivers on Magnitsky sanctions

7 Jul

Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy.

Dominic Raab’s publication of the details of his new Magnitsky-style sanctions regime has been long awaited, but was worth that wait. The new scheme is another means of deploying Britain’s soft power around the world – a stick to balance the carrots of diplomacy and overseas aid.

No longer can individuals who benefit from corruption and egregious human rights breaches expect to live comfortably, free from repercussions, avoiding any unpleasant consequences of their actions. That leaving the EU means, for the first time, that the United Kingdom can act alone in bringing forward such sanctions is a further leap forward in our nation stepping up to fulfil its global potential, to play its full role on the world’s stage.

As Bill Browder, the man acknowledged by Raab in his statement as being behind the global campaign for Magnitsky sanctions, following the death in Russian custody of his business colleague, Sergei Magnitsky, told this column: “Although the UK is a relatively small country, it has an outsized role in the world, because this is where everyone from the developed world wants to buy property, keep their families safe and store their money.”

Without this sanctions regime, Browder explains: “In the past, whenever a dictator perpetrated an atrocity, the most the British government and many others did was to issue statements of condemnation, at which the perpetrators simply laughed. This Magnitsky sanctions regime creates real world consequences of which they’re rightly terrified.”

Raab, to be fair, has consistently, since 2012, declared that he was “passionate” about the introduction of a sanctions regime, believing that it would have real impact, particularly when used alongside those of other sympathetic nations.

There were some who feared that Foreign Office officials would water down his plans, this column included, and leave us with a regime that was not fit for purpose and did not strike the necessary fear into the hearts of those targeted by its restrictions on financial assets and freedom of movement. Maybe we should have had more faith, because the scheme now published puts considerable power into the hands of Ministers, provided, of course, due process is followed, to stop kleptocrats “laundering their blood money”, as Raab put it, in the United Kingdom

That we had the first designations, the historic early targets of this tough new regime and the very day it was presented to Parliament is a clear indication of the planning, the preparation and the determination on the part of Raab and his team. Rightly, some (though by no means all) of those complicit in Russia of the violent death in custody of Magnitsky, and of the state-sanctioned theft of assets from Bowder’s Hermitage investment fund are among the first to be hit. Let’s hope that others from that benighted kleptocracy follow in the future.

Rightly do we see targeted some (but again far from all) of those Saudis responsible for the shocking murder of tell-it-like-it-is journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the subsequent beheading, dismemberment and disposal of his body inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

Others announced include against some of those responsible for the worst aspects of the systematic mistreatment of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, and those responsible for the sending to the Gulags of North Korea hundreds of thousands of innocent people in that country.

But now that the regime is published and the criteria for inclusion within it is known, we can hopefully expect a gradual extension of the lists of not only the perpetrators of the atrocities against Magnitsky and Khashoggi, but also the inclusion of others implicated directly in the genocide of millions of Uighurs in China, imprisoned in concentration camps to wipe out their sense of religious and cultural identity. We also need to see movement against the senior Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for the now internationally recognised harvesting of human organs from members of the Falun Gong community, among others.

And closer to home, with the threat to the basic freedoms of speech, thought, association and protest of 350,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders, and the wider people of Hong Kong to whom we owe a particular moral and historic duty, should we not be bringing forward in the immediate future sanctions against that city’s puppet of the Chinese Community Party, as identified in the Commons debate by Iain Duncan Smith, namely its Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and her head of police, the latter of whom is directly, personally and professionally responsible for the sustained campaign of brutal police violence against protestors.

When it comes to eating a large slice of humble pie for suggesting that Raab risked not meeting the Conservative manifesto commitment to introduce a regime that delivered a truly effective Magnitsky sanctions regime, this column could not be more delighted than to have to ask, Oliver Twist-like: please sir, can I have some more!

In introducing the sanctions regime that he has, Raab has made a bold and decisive leap in the right direction. There is further to go, particularly into widening the scope of the regime to include a wider range, in particular, of human rights abuses, and we can only welcome his commitment to make further progress in that regard; but we can be proud as a party of what Raab has already delivered.