7 October 2020
It is time for Britain to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on China

It is an uncomfortable truth that the plight of the Tibetans has become an issue noticeable only by its absence from the mainstream political agenda. A new report, which exposes the astonishing scale and nature of the state-sponsored human rights abuses being carried out, ought to stand as a reminder to the free world of the atrocities that are being committed. 

The study, by the human rights adviser and scholar Adrian Zenz, sponsored by IPAC (the Inter Parliamentary Alliance on China) and Reuters, shines a light on the forced labour scheme which detained more than half a million Tibetans in the first seven months of 2020 alone. Military management, enforced indoctrination and intrusive surveillance are all being used to achieve the goal – clearly set out in official Chinese government documents – of diluting and even eradicating Tibetan identity. 

This militarised and forced labour programme, where detainees are often moved across China, is not an isolated issue but part of a wider pattern of behaviour by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It has close similarities to the oppression of the Uighurs in Xinjiang and other religious and ethnic minorities. We can already see the same authoritarian and intolerant trends beginning in Inner Mongolia.  

Up to three million Uighurs are currently being held in arbitrary detention centres in Xinjiang. There are almost 400 prison camps in the region with still more under development. The Uighurs are constantly watched: civil servants in homes closely monitor their behaviour and act to suppress their Muslim faith, culture and language. There have been reports of forced sterilisation, abortions and detention of Uighur women. Shockingly, there is even evidence of western fashion brands engaged with supply chains that rely on this forced labour.

All religious minorities are a target of the CCP. Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Christian Church was detained in December 2018 and sentenced to 9 years in prison for "inciting to subvert state power". His is but one example of the systematic oppression taking place. Even party members who profess a faith are subject to disciplinary procedures.

Then there is the Office 610, the sinister security agency tasked with persecuting practitioners of Falun Gong, a peaceful religion that promotes the virtues of truth and forbearance. Practitioners who do not renounce their beliefs are subject to “Re-Education through Labour”. The conditions in these camps, where torture is used to force people to renounce their faith, are horrific. Liu Guifu, a Falun Gong practitioner, was sent to the Re-education through Labour camp in Beijing twice. Deprived of sleep and not allowed to use the bathroom or drink water she was forced to consume faeces and toilet water and was given unidentifiable drugs which made her lose consciousness. 

IPAC now has some 37 countries as members. Parliamentarians across the world, from both the Left and the Right, have come together to denounce China's human rights abuses and we are calling on the UK and other governments to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on the individuals responsible. The US government has already carried out such a step and it is vital that other nations join them.

As China carries out these human rights abuses while systematically breaking World Trade Organisation rules, too many businesses act as apologists for China and we must now give a lead in challenging this behaviour. I am hopeful that an amendment to the Trade Bill, currently being considered by the House of Lords, would do just that. The amendment in question would nullify trade arrangements past and future if the High Court makes a preliminary determination that a proposed trade partner has perpetrated genocide.

Western governments cannot continue to ignore these abuses. For too long China has traded freely with a world that has turned an ever-convenient blind eye to the grave human rights abuses that are being perpetrated. We must be prepared to enact economic and trade restrictions where necessary to force them to address these abuses. We should also boycott the Winter Olympics due to be held in Beijing in 2022.

Whether it is the treatment of the Uighurs, the Tibetans, the Christians, Falun Gong, Hong Kong citizens or the people of Inner Mongolia, the illegal possession of the South China Sea, attacks on the border of India, or threats to Taiwan, there is no doubting the scale of the challenge we face. The British people woke up to this danger long ago and they are right to be concerned. There can no longer be any excuses about trade. We can and must come together and take action.

First published in The Daily Telegraph