Government accused of sending contradictory and confusing messages on China. HMG challenged over dependency, resilience, pouring money into CCP coffers, Uyghurs, Hong Kong, the widespread abuse of human rights, and subversion of law and UN institutions.

Nov 17, 2022 | News

Human Rights: China. House of Lords debate.
Thursday 17 November 2022

Lord Alton of Liverpool 


My Lords, the whole House is indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for the—as always—exemplary way in which he spoke to the Committee and introduced today’s debate, and for focusing our attention again on the CCP’s human rights violations. I declare my non-financial interests in the register.

The International Relations and Defence Committee’s report on China, trade and security describes the UK’s China policy as lacking strategic coherence—confusion that was reinforced this week at the G20 summit. During the leadership election, Rishi Sunak said that “for too long” western leaders had

“rolled out the red carpet and turned a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions.”

Liz Truss upgraded the UK’s recognition of China from “systemic competitor” to “threat”—as have our allies in the United States—and described China’s actions in Xinjiang as “genocide”.

However, on Tuesday, Mr Sunak was no longer citing the director-general of MI5, who said that that China represents

“the biggest long-term threat to Britain and the world’s economic and national security”,

preferring instead to describe the CCP regime as a “challenge.”

North Korea, Iran and Russia are all described by the FCDO as a threat. Why is China not to be described in the same way? Yesterday, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of his party, warned the Prime Minister that

“it now looks like we’re drifting into appeasement with China.”

There is an old saying that when you want to understand something you should follow the money. We have been spending literally billions of pounds in China, ratcheting up a trade deficit of some £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.

We have now added insult to injury. On 15 November, earlier this week, Will Quince MP confirmed in the House of Commons that the Government are spending £770,000 a day to store 120 million items of PPE in China. That is more than £280 million a year. Think of how that could be used to fund nurses’ salaries, patient care, any number of public services or the promotion of human rights. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how much has been spent in total so far, and explain how much longer we will go on paying these exorbitant sums to the CCP regime.

What does all this say about national resilience and dependency? Have we learned nothing from Germany’s dependency on Putin and the consequences of indebtedness? Drifting back to the Cameron-Osborne golden era would be a huge error. It would be a betrayal of all those who suffer at the hands of the CCP: persecuted religious minorities, journalists, human rights defenders, and those who have had the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and association suppressed. It would be a betrayal of all those driven out of their homes in Hong Kong and welcomed to the United Kingdom in an exemplary way by His Majesty’s Government—I agree with the right reverend Prelate. Think of the betrayal of the 50 million victims of the CCP. The Italian scholar, Massimo Introvigne, says:

“No organization in human history killed more human beings than the CCP.”

My question to the Minister is: what has changed in the extremely short period between Liz Truss leaving and Rishi Sunak arriving at No. 10 that justifies this U-turn in relation to China? Have the atrocities against the Uighurs and other Turkic minorities stopped and been proven untrue? Has Hong Kong seen a restoration of democracy? Are Ben Wallace’s comments on Taiwan to the International Relations and Defence Committee part of this new rapprochement? In answer to a question from me, he said:

“It is in China’s plan to reunify Taiwan to mainland China … it is not a secret. Britain wants a peaceful process towards that.”

The 23 million people of Taiwan have never been part of the PRC. Why should we aid and abet that process? Why should we suggest that there is something inevitable about this? Since when has that been an object pursued by His Majesty’s Government?

On Monday I chaired a meeting, here in the House, addressed by Bill Browder and young Hong Kongers. Pleas were made for Magnitsky sanctions against those who have abused human rights, upended democracy, subverted institutions and corrupted the rule of law. Political show trials in Hong Kong have become the norm under the new national security regime, with the verdict in Jimmy Lai’s so-called fraud trial coming next week, as well as the verdict in the trial of the 90 year-old Cardinal Zen, referred to by the right reverend Prelate, and the other trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.

Given the growing number of political prisoners in Hong Kong and upcoming national security cases, including that of Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily journalists on 1 December, will the Minister tell the Committee what the Government are willing to do to stand by their legal, moral and historic commitments to Hong Kong and to Jimmy Lai, who is, after all, a United Kingdom citizen? How does the Minister respond to my noble and learned friend Lady Hale, former President of the Supreme Court, who has warned in the last 24 hours of Hong Kong’s “unacceptable laws” and said that British judges should search their consciences and vacate their seats in the Hong Kong courts?

What, too, of the CCP’s subversion of international jurisprudence and bodies? Only a few weeks ago, we saw how the CCP can silence the very UN body that was tasked with accommodating dialogue about human rights violations, the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which China is a member—rather like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. On 6 October the Human Rights Council rejected a proposal, of which the UK was a co-sponsor, to even have a debate on Michelle Bachelet’s findings that “serious human rights violations”, potentially including crimes against humanity, of the Uighur and “other predominantly Muslim communities” may have been committed in Xinjiang. The proposal was defeated by 19 votes to 17, with China’s position supported by those other great champions of human rights: Eritrea, Pakistan, Sudan and Cameroon. Study the links and note that many of those opposing even a debate have a substantial belt-and-road indebtedness to the CCP. How do we intend to take this issue forward? Do we intend to table a resolution at the General Assembly of the UN?

Closer to home, when can we expect the Greater Manchester Police report on the assault of Bob Chan, whom I have met, and other protesters outside the city’s Chinese consulate? What is the Foreign Secretary doing to take action to protect the very rights now denied in Hong Kong, including reports that the CCP is establishing overseas police stations in the United Kingdom? At a meeting this morning, I learned of the harassment of Hong Kong students by mainlanders in Edinburgh and at other universities. What are we doing to protect the human rights of the Hong Kongers who have settled here?

Following the welcome decision yesterday, on security grounds, to prevent the takeover of our biggest producer of semiconductors at Newport Wafer Fab, what assessment have the Minister and the Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, made of the ambitions to create a mega PRC embassy on the site of the Royal Mint? Will the Minister agree to talk to Mr Tugendhat and ask Michael Gove to consider calling in this application? The deal led to 200 British citizens having the freehold of their homes sold to the Chinese state, over their heads. After what happened in Manchester, and what happens throughout China, families are scared and angry but have been utterly ignored. Will the Minister write to me detailing who brokered the Royal Mint deal, how much money passed hands, and what was the independent valuation of the site?

If the Minister, who is always so kind and generous in dealing with the questions that I put to him, cannot undertake to answer them today, will he at least agree that they are legitimate questions which deserve to be answered and that he will write to me about them? I once again thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity to say some of these things.

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