British Lawmakers Demand 'Coherent' Policy Toolkit to Counter China
By Henry Ridgwell January 13, 2021
The world's leading democracies should form a coalition to counter China's human rights abuses at home and its support for authoritarianism overseas, according to a prominent group of British lawmakers.
Several members of parliament from Britain's ruling Conservative Party have formed the "China Research Group" to monitor Beijing's influence. They say Britain is in desperate need of a coherent policy on China and recently published a self-styled "policy toolkit" of recommendations.
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee, is co-founder of the group. "What we're trying to do is to change China. We're not trying to cut it off," Tugendhat told VOA in a recent interview. "We're trying to encourage it to change within a rules-based international system, so that the people of China have the opportunity they deserve and so the rest of the world is not threatened."
Analyst Steve Tsang, who is director of the China Institute at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, said it is a battle with global implications.
"China under (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping is interested in exporting and supporting authoritarianism in the world. So, there is a bit of a contest of two different ideas: liberal democracies and Chinese-supported authoritarianism," Tsang told VOA.
Among the policy recommendations from the China Research Group are the formation of a coalition of 10 leading democracies to counterbalance Chinese influence, and sanctioning Chinese individuals accused of human rights abuses.
Tugendhat said a growing catalogue of atrocities carried out by Beijing must be confronted. "We know about the mass sterilization and detention and indeed enslavement of Uighur Muslims; we know about the persecution of Mongols in Inner Mongolia; we know about the persecution of Tibetans; and we now know very clearly about the repression of democratic rights in Hong Kong. And all of these should be met with sanctions."
In a speech to parliament Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stopped short of calling for sanctions on individuals in the Chinese government, instead outlining new regulations for businesses to prevent any links with forced labor practices in China.
"Here in the U.K., we must take action to make sure that U.K. businesses are not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang, and to make sure that the products of the human rights violations that take place in those camps don't end up on the shelves of supermarkets that we shop in here at home week in, week out," Raab told members of parliament.
The China Research Group's recommendations include forcing greater legal obligations on foreign banks and financial institutions to prevent the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy by Beijing.
But the West has limited leverage, said Tsang. "We are looking at some of the leading Western banking and financial institutions. So, they will be the ones that will be hurt much more than the Chinese party state itself."
China is both the United States' and Europe's biggest trading partner.
"Trade relationships normally do get ahead of political ones, that's the entrepreneurial nature of business; it's a good thing," said Tugendhat. "But sometimes we need to remember that there are other challenges that need to be reined in or changed or tweaked. Because actually, what we're seeing is not fair trade; it may be intellectual property theft. It may be effectively asset stripping."
Any "policy toolkit" will have a limited impact â€“ and global democracies must instead win the battle of ideas, said Tsang. "If we cannot win the argument with the reality of democracies, then we will not be able to outcompete China's approach to supporting authoritarianism."
China has reacted angrily to Western accusations that it is curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong and committing human rights abuses. "The relevant countries should face up to the reality that Hong Kong has already returned to China," Foreign Ministry spokersperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a press conference Monday.
"They should abide by the basic principles of international law and international relations, discard double standards, earnestly respect China's national sovereignty, respect Hong Kong's rule of law, and immediately cease all forms of interference in Hong Kong's internal affairs, and China's domestic affairs," he added.
Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Meanwhile, China has denied accusations that it is incarcerating millions of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang province and conducting forced sterilizations, despite widespread evidence that such practices are taking place.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|