A new parliamentary rebellion is brewing against our weak China policy” – Juliet Samuel, writing in The Daily Telegraph, November 28th, 2020.
There’s China trouble brewing in Parliament. This week, four lords from three parties published an amendment to the trade bill, which is meant to ensure continuity after Brexit. It doesn’t say it’s a China amendment, but it is. It emerged from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a grouping of China-sceptic parliamentarians, which commands considerable cross-party support. The Government could well lose.
The deceptively modest IPAC amendment states that any UK trade deal would be automatically annulled if the other party were found by our High Court to be committing genocide. This might sound uncontroversial, but in practice these clauses could have major consequences.
First, they would in effect annul longstanding UK policy that our government does not make judgments on whether genocides are happening or not. Instead, we outsource that judgment to the UN and declare it’s all a legal matter for the International Criminal Court. Of course, referring a case to the ICC requires a UN Security Council resolution, so any state with a veto, like Russia or China, can scotch that. In effect, UK policy amounts to ignoring the issue. This amendment would instead hand jurisdiction to our judges.
Secondly, it would stir interest in the debate over what exactly is going on in Xinjiang, the far-western province of China. For some years, the term used to describe the crimes perpetuated against the Uighurs, the Turkic people who live there, has been “cultural genocide”. This covered Beijing’s policy of religious oppression, razing buildings and cemeteries, extreme surveillance and “thought reform” (violent brainwashing).
A recent paper by the Xinjiang scholar Jo Smith Finley argues that there is now a consensus among experts to drop the “cultural” qualifier. In 2018, it emerged that China had set up vast internment camps holding more than one million Uighurs. Former inmates recount rape, torture, medical experiments and indoctrination. Last year, 400 pages of documents leaked, detailing the administration of these camps. And earlier this year, a scholar called Adrian Zenz published decisive evidence of the mass sterilisation of Uighur women. Put all of this together and you start to meet most, if not all, of the five conditions laid out in the Genocide Convention.
There is already an independent tribunal taking evidence on the matter in London, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a veteran of such cases. But though its ruling will have moral force, it will have no legal force.
The Government will argue that a technical trade bill is no place for these sorts of shenanigans and it may in theory be right. But it has only itself to blame. Across the board, UK policy on Beijing is lax, complacent and unscrupulous. It’s time someone forced a change.