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UK lawmakers say China ‘subverts’ global rights norms, erodes Hong Kong’s freedoms

UK Parliament in in London. (MaxPixel/Released)
April 08, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The U.K. should “recalibrate” its China policy in the light of the power held by President Xi Jinping, who began an indefinite term in office in March 2018, a parliamentary report has said.

In a report titled “China and the Rules-Based International System,” the House of Commons foreign affairs committee said that the U.K. should “fully take into account the consolidation of power in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party under President Xi,” and remember that Beijing’s foreign policy serves the aim of the ruling party.

“In the realm of human rights, the evidence suggests that China does not intend to reform the rules-based international system but rather intends to subvert it, by promoting an alternative version of human rights which stresses economic development at the cost of the universality of individual civil and political freedoms,” the report warned.

“The U.K.’s approach risks prioritizing economic considerations over other interests, values and national security,” the report warned, citing the mass incarceration of at least a million ethnic minority Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, and Beijing’s attempts to subvert international protections for human rights.

“We are extremely concerned by the treatment of the [Uyghur] Muslim population and other minorities in China’s Xinjiang [Uyghur AutonomousRegion],” the report said, calling on the government to support efforts to investigate the situation via existing mechanisms, including the United Nations.

The U.K. government believes that “over a million Uyghurs and other minorities” have suffered oppression in Xinjiang, through detention in“political re-education” camps, extensive cultural restrictions, and monitoring through “extensive use of sophisticated technologies …supported by a heavy police presence,” the report said.

It added: “The experts we spoke to found the allegations of the scale and severity of China’s repression of the Uyghur population to be credible.”

The report came amid growing criticism of the European Union’s efforts to engage China in an annual dialogue on human rights, which took place on Monday and Tuesday, just days after a state visit to several European countries by President Xi Jinping.

“The dialogue remains a weak diplomatic tool,” a statement from five human rights groups said this week. “Chinese authorities consistently fail to demonstrate concrete progress on human rights issues raised by the EU.”

Empty rights dialogue

The letter, signed by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Tibet, the International Federation forHuman Rights, and the International Service for Human Rights, said that Chinese officials had canceled a scheduled session to meet with independent civil society organizations for the second year running.

“The dialogue has become a dumping ground for human rights concerns and criticism, letting EU and Chinese leaders off the hook from confronting these issues directly at a high level,” the groups said, calling on EU leaders to press their Chinese counterparts on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country during the EU-China Summit in Brussels on April 9.

U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao agreed.

“The EU-China human rights dialogue has been going for so many years now, and yet there has been no progress made whatsoever by the ChineseCommunist Party with regard to the rule of law,” Teng said. “If anything, things have gotten worse.”

“China loves to manipulate these dialogues, saying one thing in public and another in private,” he said. “But the dialogue has become cosmetic now, in the absence of follow-up measures, and there have been no limits on the worsening human rights situation in China.”

Fellow U.S.-based legal scholar Chen Guangcheng said the entire international community needs to recalibrate its strategy towards Beijing.

“It’s pretty pointless to have a dialogue with a bunch of bandits and robbers, because they will never do what they say they’re going to do,” Chen said.

“The international community should entirely reinvent its strategy, because there needs to be some kind of viable international system of redress, if China continues to violate human rights and international law in that way,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.K. report’s authors said they were also “deeply concerned by the evidence that Hong Kong’s autonomy is at risk, especially in the area of the rule of law.”

It quoted former colonial-era Hong Kong governor Chris Patten as saying: “The [Communist Party’s] United Front became more active, the Joint Liaison Office became more active and there was a general tightening of control over all those aspects of Hong Kong’s system … [T]he rule of law, free speech—all the freedoms we associate with pluralism.”

Hong Kong concerns

The United Front Work Department is tasked with developing allies and influence outside party ranks, including overseas, and has been linked to a number of reports on growing Chinese influence in liberal democracies.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Hong Kong’s situation is drawing strong concern from U.S. lawmakers and diplomats.

“The State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report on China documents reports of human rights violations and abuses enabled by the Mainland legal system, as well as general deterioration of respect for the rule of law,” said a spokesperson for the department.

“Hong Kong’s success is predicated on the “one country, two systems” framework and underpinned by its commitment to rule of law and its independent judiciary,” said a statement, issued in response to an RFA query about legislation under debate in Hong Kong that would allow renditions to mainland China.

“The proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition laws, if approved, will erode Hong Kong’s reputation as a center of commerce governed by the rule of law. The people of Hong Kong and foreigners residing in Hong Kong—including 85,000 Americans—must be protected from a criminal justice system in mainland China that is regularly employed as a tool of repression,” said a statement by Congressional-Executive Commission on China co-chairs Rep. James P. McGovern and Sen. Marco Rubio.

But Hong Kong wasn’t the only target of Chinese government attempts to wield power and influence overseas, the British report found.

“In the course of this inquiry, we have also heard troubling allegations concerning attempted Chinese interference in the U.K.’s domestic affairs, especially in academia,” it said, calling for “strategy, rigour and unity in place of hope and muddling through.”

It quoted University of Nottingham professor Steve Tsang as saying that he was aware of specific instances of Chinese interference, including one at a university in the prestigious Russell Group.

“A pro-vice chancellor was spoken to by someone in the Chinese embassy and as a result he stood a speaker who was already invited down,” Tsang told the committee.

“I am also aware of a vice-chancellor again under pressure from the Chinese embassy asking one of his senior academics not to make political comments on China at a specified period of time,” Tsang said.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Lin Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.