15th November 2023
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, I congratulate today’s maiden speakers and thank the redoubtable noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for her extraordinary service to your Lordships’ House. I also join the collective sigh of relief that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, remains in his post.
I draw attention to several relevant all-party parliamentary groups in which I am involved. I am also a patron of Hong Kong Watch.
The 9 and 10 December will mark the 75th anniversaries of the convention on the crime of genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Along with the creation of the United Nations, this was architecture for the rule of law and a valiant attempt to avert another world war. Seventy-five years later, in the context of the Middle East and Ukraine, with an axis of dictators led by Xi, Putin, Kim and Khamenei, I hope that our new Foreign Secretary, the soon to be Lord Cameron, will see the collective threat that they represent. In particular, I hope that he will reassess his golden era policies on China, read the excellent report of the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee on trade and security with China, and frame his engagement and trade deals against the threats and new realities of genocide in Xinjiang, the destruction of democracy in Hong Kong, the daily threats to Taiwan and the egregious violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, particularly the 1951 convention on refugees.
During the debate here on 19 October on the report on China from the Intelligence and Security Committee, I set out my concerns at some length. That committee drew our attention to the new Foreign Secretary’s role in the £1 billion China-UK investment fund, which the committee said could be
“in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment”.
The Foreign Secretary will need to reflect on that and on the role that he played in the vast Port City Colombo in Sri Lanka—a signature project for Xi Jinping’s belt and road initiative—which, as Sir Iain Duncan Smith rightly pointed out, may one day act as a Chinese military outpost in the Indo-Pacific.
China has used its belt and road programme to indebt nations and to require recipient vassal states to do its bidding in United Nations institutions and agencies. Belt and road has a combined GDP amounting to trillions of pounds, touching 151 countries with a population of over 5 billion people—that is at a moment when the UK has cut its development aid by a total of £7 billion since 2019, with 29% of the remaining budget being used to host refugees, and as we neglect links to the 2.4 billion people of the Commonwealth, spread across some 56 countries.
While that has been going on, the CCP has literally been marching into the void. Xi’s latest extension of belt and road is to create a global initiative on artificial intelligence. That is ominous because of the precedent of using facial recognition technology in Xinjiang’s surveillance state. AI is a tool that the CCP will share with other authoritarian states, enabling them to impose iron-fist control of their citizens. I particularly applaud the initiative that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken in trying to get a global response to this, but this use of AI will doubtless aid and abet spying with Chinese characteristics, even here in the heart of our democracy. I draw the House’s attention to yesterday’s report of the £115 million received by UK universities, some of which has direct military links to China and some of it, I might add, subject to US sanctions. What are we thinking of?
The CCP regime spies, subverts, infiltrates, manipulates and buys votes in the General Assembly. It also sanctions UK parliamentarians—here I declare an interest. It is disgraceful that the CCP blocks Taiwan from membership of the WHO, which it has used to cover its Covid tracks. For the avoidance of doubt, it would be helpful if the Minister reaffirmed the Government’s position on Taiwan, in line with the recent G7 statements. It is risible that the CCP regime sits on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council while being in breach of UDHR Articles 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19 and others. It is like putting the fox in charge of the hen coop. Last night, I met Tibetan Buddhists who are grievously persecuted. There are Christians in prison and Falun Gong practitioners subjected to forced organ harvesting, while Uighur Muslims suffer genocide. In the face of this, the UN is a hollow man.
The noble Lord, Lord Swire, has previously raised, as I have, the repatriation of North Koreans by China to a state that the United Nations has describe as without parallel and as accused, through one of its own inquiries, of crimes against humanity. Next week, the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, will be a welcome visitor here. The Republic of Korea is willing to resettle every one of those refugees.
As for the Uighurs, in 2021 the House of Commons determined that genocide is being committed. In response, China ensured that compliant states at the UN Human Rights Council rejected a motion even to debate the findings of the UN special rapporteur. In the face of all this, it is urgent that we return to the founding principles of the UN and reform it in the way my noble friend Lord Hannay described, strengthen our hard and soft power alliances, and be much clearer eyed about the threat posed by the CCP regime in China.