Following the Integrated Review from the ministry of defence, Boris Johnson touted Britain’s decision to sanction Myanmar’s generals as exemplary of the government’s intention to have international relations reflect national ‘values’, and continue the UK’s ‘historic mission as a force for good’. The Prime Minister then expressed ‘unique concern’ over China’s imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims, before paradoxically pledging to pursue ‘a positive trade and investment relationship’.
China has interned over three million Uyghurs in ‘political education’ camps in the Xinjiang region for having ‘unhealthy thoughts’. Leaked documents demonstrate how the CCP’s ‘organs of dictatorship’ exercise ‘absolutely no mercy’ in rendering ‘human rights’ subordinate to ‘security’. Those incarcerated have their heads shaved. Their hair is sold and imported overseas. Officials pedal fabricated reasons to explain why whole families have vanished, or tell students exiled from relatives to be indoctrinated into party loyalty to ‘treasure this chance for free education’.
Though the Prime Minister stated the United States will be Britain’s ‘greatest ally’ in this fudge to make trade seem ethical in the Indo-Pacific, President Biden has been reluctant to put China under any pressure for its ethnic cleansing campaigns. During a recent CNN Town Hall, Biden refused to ‘speak out against’ what President Xi is ‘doing in Hong Kong,’ ‘with the Uyghurs in western mountains of China,’ and his ‘forceful’ assimilation of Taiwan. This is an astounding statement given his predecessor, President Trump, designated China’s programme of Uyghur persecution a genocide. To Biden, this systematic eradication of a minority ethnicity is merely a ‘cultural difference’.
This permission—and even encouragement—of human rights abuses is reflected in the President’s policies. Under Biden, the US government has reinstated the eligibility of the Wuhan Institute of Virology—suspected source of COVID-19—to receive taxpayer funding (via the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance). President Biden also suspended his predecessor’s order prohibiting designated foreign adversaries to the US from investing in the energy grid. This policy reverts America to importing transformers produced by China: a nation unashamed of enforcing labour conditions so inhuman they drive employees to suicide.
International industry is equally guilty. Despite their recent trend of ‘speaking out’ on social issues, America’s corporations like Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola exhibited similar moral shortcomings by recently lobbying against a bill prohibiting goods production using slave labour in the Xinjiang region. Disney recently thanked Xinjiang’s security forces for their assistance in filming the Mulan remake. The NBA was revealed to have had training camps in Xinjiang after the slogan ‘free Hong Kong’ was banned from custom-ordered jerseys (while ‘burn Jews’ was inexplicably permitted). Any signal of solidarity by these companies with oppressed peoples from here on out should be regarded with bitter cynicism.
The Conservative party hardly inspires faith that Britain will hold America’s politicians or businesses to the Prime Minister’s newfound higher moral standard. Front-benchers blocked a bipartisan provision for trade negotiations—which would have allowed courts to investigate partner nations’ outstanding genocide accusations. Almost identical moves to Biden’s were made to accommodate Chinese investment in Britain’s energy industry. Chinese General Nuclear owns a 33 per cent stake in Hinkley Point C and a 22 per cent stake in Sizewell C nuclear plants, and commitments still exist to create a UK-China joint-funded £50 million nuclear research centre.
Conservative leaders have marketed these concessions as a ‘golden age’ for UK-China relations despite the cancellation of Huawei from UK 5G networks by 2027 over safety concerns. What’s unacceptable for our phones is somehow just peachy for our energy grid.
All this cosying up to authoritarianism is reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. Chamberlain believed cooperation would dissuade Hitler from invading Germany’s neighbours. MPs would be wise to remember history looks unfavourably on his failure. Appealing to utilitarian ethics isn’t a tenable position. Timid concession-making is the precondition for tyrants believing they can commit acts of evil without repercussions.
It’s not enough to say, ‘never again.’ Belief is conviction demonstrated by repeated action. Words alone are hollow. The inactivity of Western nations on this issue—particularly the appeasement by a British government that recently admitted thousands of Hong Kong’s citizens as refugees when China moved to subsume their national sovereignty—is astounding.
Britain and America must make good on lip-service paid to liberation by pursuing policies that sever trade reliance on China until regime change is enacted internally. It’s also indefensible to continue to fund despots like Prince bin Salman when they are content to exchange human lives for enrichment and temporary exclusion from China’s imperial ambitions across the African continent. Policies like cross-border tax exemption on loans granted to sustainable development projects would be one way to alleviate developing nations’ reliance on Chinese loans to update their infrastructure.
The longer the Anglosphere stands to profit from Chinese human rights violations, the more it embodies philosopher Hannah Arendt’s description of Adolf Eichmann as embodying the ‘banality of evil’: the complacency which paralyses good men from speaking out against the emergence of Hell on the world stage.
Connor Tomlinson is the policy director for the British Conservation Alliance and a Young Voices contributor. Follow him on Twitter: @Mass_Effected