China’s human rights record comes under the spotlight again as peers debate the atrocities.
by Ruth Ingram
UK Lords are determined to roll back the red carpet proffered to Beijing amid its “nefarious activity and ambitions,” insisting the government refuses to betray the “millions” of those who have “suffered at the hands of the CCP.”
In a week that saw UK prime minister Rishi Sunak downgrade the China “threat,” against the advice of the head of MI5, and move towards appeasement, and the UK Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, bow with not so much as a whimper to Beijing’s dream of unity with Taiwan, peers gathered to expose the atrocities committed by the Beijing regime, an organisation that according to editor of Bitter Winter, Massimo Introvigne, has killed 50 million people, more than any other in human history.
Only two days before, stalwart human rights campaigner, Lord David Alton had pressed the government to ban goods made with forced Uyghur labour, and demanded action over the fate of 50 Uyghur refugees who have languished in Thai jails for almost ten years.
With the Chinese government firmly in the public crosshairs following a flood of Hong Kong refugees to the UK, fleeing the human rights crisis in their homeland, a damning UN report citing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang against the Turkic peoples, and an unprovoked attack on peaceful Hong Kong protesters outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester, one of whom was dragged into the grounds of the embassy and beaten up, peers were determined to speak out.
Asking tough questions of the British government, lords spoke passionately and critically of Beijing’s human rights record against its minorities and particularly those with religious faith. Gathering to discuss the worsening human rights crisis in China and campaign for action, tabling the debate, the Bishop of St Albans, said that he “could not remain silent in the face of such a wide range of human rights abuses,” which included forced imprisonment, sterilization, mass surveillance, and the show trials of religious leaders and democracy activists.
Christians could no longer go to church unmolested by the State, Falun Gong practitioners were arrested and persecuted, mosques and church buildings demolished and dissenters remanded to psychiatric hospitals indefinitely for challenging the government, he reported.
Beijing’s “distinctively Chinese approach to handling ethnic affairs” trumpeted by Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Bali recently, sounded warning bells for peers worried that the CCP’s blanketing as “religious extremists” anyone who took their religion seriously was a catch all solution to eliminate those who disagreed.
“The Chinese state has persecuted many Christian leaders, particularly those who exemplify the values underpinning the Christian faith, such as the affirmation of the dignity of human life, opposition to tyranny and a willingness to stand up for the persecuted,” he said.
Lord Alton was puzzled at Rishi Sunak’s volte face over China, having a matter of weeks ago sounded the alarm over the CCP, but on becoming Prime Minister suddenly downplaying the “threat” to a mere “challenge.”
He demanded to know why the British government was paying Beijing “£770,000 a day to store 120 million items of PPE in China,” totaling more than £280 million a year; and why Britain’s trade deficit with the superpower had reached £40 billion. “We have seen British taxpayers’ money being spent on goods made in a state that uses slave labour to undercut its competitors and is credibly accused of genocide,” he said.
He asked how the CCP was able to wriggle out of accountability for its actions in Xinjiang and muzzle a debate at the recent UN Human Rights Council. “Study the links,” he said, “and note that many of those opposing even a debate have a substantial belt-and-road indebtedness to the CCP.”
Closer to home, where was the action over the Manchester attack, and the hard questions over the “mega PRC embassy” on the site of the Royal Mint, the deal for which lead to 200 British citizens having the freehold of their homes sold to the Chinese state? he asked.
Lord Rogan saw “President Xi and his coterie rubbing their hands with glee,” over the UK’s stance on Taiwan, but in contrast, had “no doubt that these words had the good people of Taiwan holding their heads in despair—and, indeed, fear.”
He failed to understand why the British government continued to balk at calling out the actions of the CCP against the Uyghurs as genocide, in the face of a steady trickle of world governments coming on board. He promised to lend his support to more attempts by Lord Alton to untie the government’s hands in defining genocide whose upcoming Private Members Bill would fulfill the UK’s obligations under the genocide convention and make preliminary determinations as to what constitutes genocide in the High Courts in England and Wales and Northern Ireland and the Court of Session in Scotland.
“Failing to stand up to state-led aggression, sabre-rattling and worse has terrible consequences, as the brave people of Ukraine are experiencing each and every day,” he warned. “Russia invaded Ukraine because President Putin believed he could get away with it. I hold the same fears about President Xi’s attitude towards Taiwan.”
“Why would the Taiwanese people want to be part of a state that commits such heinous crimes against so many of its own people?” he asked. “They are freedom-loving people who would have no say in this.” He added that in turning a blind eye to China’s ambitions, the UK would be complicit in what effectively would be a “Chinese annexation of Taiwan.”
Lord Collins demanded a more coherent strategy when it came to dealings with China. He wanted to see government departments jointly tackling industry, business, and civil society over modern slavery and supply chains. What was the government doing over a possible ban on cotton produced by slave labour? he asked, and the “disgusting issue of human organ farming?” “We need a much stronger approach,” he urged.
Lord Ahmad, Minister of State with a remit for human rights, responding to concerns, pledged the government’s commitment to calling China out and his own to sounding the alarm with Muslim states from whom there had been a “deafening silence” over persecution of the largely Uyghur population.
He reaffirmed the UK government’s commitment to the “universal character of human rights as inherent, inalienable and applicable to all human beings,” as the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approaches in December.
“That will remain our moral compass,” he said.