By Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP
The Chinese Communist Party's repression is intensifying throughout the country and well beyond its borders. Whether it is the appalling plight of the Uighurs and other religious communities, the snuffing out of freedom in Hong Kong, or its widespread use of inhumane practices such as torture, the West can no longer turn a blind eye to the evils perpetrated by those in charge in Beijing.
A comprehensive new report by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission published yesterday, titled The Darkness Deepens, has shone an unprecedented light on the abuses of the regime. The result of a painstaking inquiry stretching throughout much of last year, it has been endorsed by senior politicians who, besides myself, include two former foreign secretaries, the last governor of Hong Kong and the chair of the foreign affairs committee. The gravity of the situation and the credibility of the evidence compels us to unite in this cause.
The Chinese Communist government's mass incarceration and persecution of the Uighurs is, shamefully, but one of the wide-ranging human rights abuses identified by the report. The dismantling of promised freedoms in Hong Kong, the persecution of Christians and practitioners of Falun Gong, and the half a million Tibetans now in forced labour camps all bear witness to the evils of a mendacious regime that has also been responsible for a devastating cover-up of Covid-19 and the resultant deadly pandemic.
The security threat that the regime poses to our own freedoms through the brazen aggression of its so-called "wolf warrior" diplomats is now increasingly recognised. To this danger we must add the complicity of China's technology companies in the actions of its government. Most of the country's tech leaders are also Communist Party members, including the founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi and Huawei’s Ren Zhengfei. Tencent’s Pony Ma and Xiaomi Corp’s Lei Jun are both delegates to the National People’s Congress.
Christians are suffering the worst crackdown on religious freedom since the Cultural Revolution, with crosses torn down, churches destroyed, surveillance cameras installed at the altars of state-controlled Potemkin-style churches and Communist Party propaganda banners and portraits of Xi Jinping replacing religious images.
Torture is widespread, surveillance is Orwellian, human rights defenders, lawyers, bloggers, citizen journalists and dissidents disappear and the claims about forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience were endorsed by the British barrister who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, in an independent tribunal in 2019.
The Chinese Communist Party has always been repressive, but during the 1990s and 2000s there were some signs of relaxation. Human rights lawyers, religious adherents, civil society activists, bloggers and journalists were able to function, albeit within a limited, defined space. Today, that space has almost completely disappeared.
Last week a cartoon appeared on social media which encapsulated this repression. A prisoner behind bars calls out, “I want to talk to my lawyer.” With the answer from the next cell, “I’m here.”
Sometimes only political satire can expose the truth, for just before Christmas 10 Hong Kong youths tried to escape by boat from the territory. Caught, they were sentenced to jail in mainland China by a court that did not allow international diplomats to observe proceedings, and denied them lawyers of their choice and contact with their families. Furthermore, the lawyers from mainland China who did try to represent them were harassed. That is not the rule of law but rule by the law.
So, as this crucial report illustrates, it is time for the free world to re-evaluate our relationship and dependency on China. It is time to impose those targeted sanctions on officials and entities in Beijing complicit in grave atrocities. As the report makes clear, that does not mean shutting down engagement, or being anti-China. Quite the contrary, those behind it and who support it are pro-China and the Chinese people. Indeed, we want nothing more than to see Chinese people free to flourish. What we oppose is the dictatorship’s inhumane repression of its own people.
Soon there will be an opportunity for my fellow Members of Parliament to put themselves on the side of freedom, human rights and those poor benighted people around the world, including those in China. The House of Lords has passed an historic amendment to the Trade Bill which, if ratified by the Commons, would require that the UK does not trade with genocidal regimes. Importantly, with the UN having shown itself incapable of making such decisions, the determination of whether genocide has taken place would be made by the High Court of England and Wales.
This amendment was proposed by Lord Alton and supported by a cross-party group of peers that include the former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Forsyth, former Conservative chief whip Lord Blencathra, former Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles and other Conservatives, alongside Labour peers and numerous others, including the former Supreme Court Justice Lord Hope.
The terms of the amendment go far beyond the restrictions on trade with Chinese companies that profit from forced labour in Xinjiang already announced by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. While his move is welcome, it does not go far enough. We need tougher measures that will make a make much more significant difference to the Chinese economy and that, by being applicable to any nation guilty of genocide, will stand as a warning to other despots around the world.
Although The Darkness Deepens is a report by a party group, it has been written in a cross-party spirit, for these issues – the values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law – transcend party politics. There is no excuse for members of the House of Commons not to follow our counterparts in the Lords and endorse the Trade Bill amendment that would give real teeth to our opposition to the organised brutality of the CCP.
In the past, governments across the free world have too often shied away from criticising China. It is ironic that this should remain the case as we approach Holocaust Memorial Day. The board of Deputies of British Jews will, I believe, endorse this amendment and in so doing remind us of the lesson of the last 80 years that when we turn a blind eye to such brutal behaviour, for whatever reason, it only becomes a stronger threat to us all.
Those who tut and say, not this, not now, not here, should remember Pastor Niemöller’s warning about inaction: "Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
First published in The Telegraph