AThere was no shortage of pithy words when Foreign Minister Dominic Raab made a statement on Tuesday in the lower house on the “situation in Xingjiang”. He accused the Chinese leadership of “truly appalling human rights violations on an industrial scale” and listed them as: “Labor camps, arbitrary arrests, political re-education, forced labor, torture, forced sterilization”. There is enough evidence for all these “barbarities”, which is why it is the “moral duty” of Great Britain to react to Beijing’s actions in the province.
The measures that Raab then announced were disappointing from the point of view of critics. “The strength of his words does not match the strength of his actions, and I have to say that this is also understood loud and clear in Beijing,” said his foreign policy opponent from the Labor Party, Lisa Nandy. A quick review of the applicable export regulations should ensure that no more goods come onto the British market that are related to the labor camps for Uyghurs. The aim is “that no company that benefits from forced labor in Xingjiang can do business in Great Britain and that no British company is part of the supply chain”. Companies that source cotton from Xingjiang are the main targets. Those who cannot prove the harmless origin of their goods will pay a fine, said Raab.
China hawks and Eurosceptics
That is more than some other countries are doing, but not enough from the point of view of many China critics. The government’s own party causes more grief than the opposition. There the China Falcons have organized themselves into several groups that regularly attack their own leadership. The internal order of battle reminds some of the beginning of the split between Eurosceptics and Europhiles in the 1980s.
Tories who are involved in the “Conservative Human Rights Commission” called on Wednesday for a “realignment” of China policy. The members, including former Foreign Ministers Malcolm Rifkind and William Hague, want to reorganize supply chains and thus reduce “strategic dependence” on China. The faction’s internal “China Research Group” (CRG), which was formed in line with the influential Eurosceptic “European Research Group”, is also sitting on the government’s neck.
CRG members, among them the former party chairman Iain Duncan Smith and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat, advocated early on that the prime minister should follow the American example and no longer award contracts to the Chinese communications group Huawei in sensitive economic areas. Reluctantly, Boris Johnson finally gave in to the pressure. The CRG also supports the democracy movement in Hong Kong with verve. It was not least due to her instigation that the government guaranteed the residents of the former crown colony a permanent right to stay in the kingdom, which angered Beijing.
Johnson’s vision of “Global Britain”
Some CRG members find themselves in a parliamentary group dealing with Hong Kong. There, after Raab’s speech, criticism was voiced that the government was not imposing any “Magnitsky sanctions” on state employees involved in the oppression of the Uyghurs. As proof of its new independence after Brexit and its role as “Global Britain” (Boris Johnson), the government first imposed sanctions against people involved in human rights violations, initially against Russians and Burmese, in relation to the Magnitsky Act. The “Act” is being discussed in the EU, but has not yet been applied.
Additional pressure comes from the House of Lords. The attempted in December to add a clause to the new trade law that could potentially have taken the government’s trade talks with China out of hand. The amendment provided that the High Court could revoke a trade agreement if the contracting party was guilty of genocide.
The government refused, arguing that a political decision should not be submitted to the courts. It would be “absurd” if a government did not end talks until the development of human rights in the country of the negotiating partner had reached the level of genocide, said Raab. Responsible governments would act long in advance. Duncan Smith now asked Raab to work out a compromise.