Relations with China: Xi Jinping Presidency — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:59 pm on 16th March 2023.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 1:59 pm, 16th March 2023

I pay tribute to Jim Shannon, who said most of what I was going to say but I will give it a go anyway. Let me start with my declaration of interests—they are not at all financial, otherwise there would be a problem—as somebody who has been sanctioned by China. That is something I am very proud to shout about at every opportunity. I also declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Tibet, an association I have had for many years, and before this place, as the hon. Gentleman said.

Another day, yet another debate on China’s abuses of human rights. Earlier in the Chamber, there was another announcement relating to China, on TikTok, which I will come on to in a minute. This debate is about relations with China under the dictatorship of President Xi over the last 10 years, so it is worth starting by looking at some of the words he has said on the record and then putting some meat on the bones of how that has actually worked out in practice.

In March 2013, Xi Jinping started his first five-year term as the President of China. More consequentially, in November 2012 he first assumed the two most powerful positions in China: general secretary of the Chinese Communist party and the chairman of the party’s central military commission. Changes in leadership positions in China’s one-party state are made every five years and normally follow a two-step process: the first occurring in the CCP and the second involving the Government. At the CCP’s 20th party congress in October 2022, Xi was appointed general secretary for a third five-year term and once again as chair of the party’s CMC, confirming his dominance over the party and the country at large. That third term appointment broke the recent precedent of the country’s leadership serving only two terms.

More recently, on 11 March, he secured a precedent-breaking third term as President of China, as well as chairman of the CMC, with nearly 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress voting unanimously in the Great Hall of the People. Funnily enough, no other candidates ran. Effectively, he is becoming a dictator for life, the likes of which we have not really seen since the fall of the iron curtain and some of those potentates under the control of the Soviet empire in eastern European states before they were able to win their liberty and return to Europe, freedom and democracy.

In his speech in March to the National People’s Congress, Xi Jinping said:

“Since its founding, the Communist Party of China has closely united and led the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in working hard for a century to put an end to China’s national humiliation.”

Note that he mentioned working with “all ethnic groups” across China; I think there are 57 different ethnic groups. That does not really apply if someone is a Uyghur, Tibetan, a Hongkonger or of Mongolian ancestry. It has not really worked out well for them. He said:

“the Chinese nation has achieved the great transformation from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong, and China’s national rejuvenation has become a historical inevitability.”

On military and defence, he went on to say:

“We need to better”— a split infinitive, I apologise—

“co-ordinate development and security. We should comprehensively promote the modernisation of our national defence and our armed forces, and build the people’s military into a great wall of steel that can effectively safeguard our nation’s sovereignty, security and the interests of our development.”

On Taiwan, he said:

“Realising China’s complete reunification is a shared aspiration of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, as well as the essence of national rejuvenation…resolutely oppose foreign interference and separatist activities aimed at ‘Taiwan independence’ and unswervingly promote progress towards national reunification.”

Those words should not come as a surprise. Two years earlier, in a speech—I am quoting selectively, but I think you will get the gist, Sir Edward—marking the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist party, he said:

“We will never allow anyone to bully, oppress or subjugate China…Anyone who dares try to do that will have their heads bashed bloody against the Great Wall of Steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people…Only socialism can save China, and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can develop China…No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity…The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.”

I watched a programme last night about the Nazis in the 1930s, and so much of President Xi’s language there was redolent of what was heard in the 1930s under Hitler. It is a shame that Gary Lineker did not refer to that as well, because that is where the real dangers lie. It is chilling when one listens to the very words that the people running China put into the public domain. We should take them exceedingly seriously. For previous Governments to refer to “golden ages” of relationships between the United Kingdom, the west and China, under the same dictator who expressed those words, is a complete fantasy—and a dangerous fantasy at that. We need to wake up to that.

I worry greatly about the threat that China poses. It is a threat, whatever language the Government might like to use. Let us touch on the China 2049 policy, which President Xi has been following. China 2049 in an overarching plan, set out by the President in October 2017, when he used a speech to describe a broad plan to achieve national rejuvenation by 2049. The date would mark the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China by the CCP. It largely refers to the CCP’s plan to transform the Chinese army—the People’s Liberation Army—into a world-class military by 2049. A mid-term goal is to have completed the modernisation of the PLA by 2035.

According to an annual report from the Pentagon to the US Congress in November 2021:

The PRC is increasingly clear in its ambitions and intentions. Beijing seeks to reshape the international order to better align with its authoritarian system and national interests, as a vital component of its strategy to achieve the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.’”

China seeks to achieve that by merging foreign policy, economic power, defence and military strategies, and its Government and political systems into one master plan. Everything is traduced to that. Everything China does has that long-term, great goal in mind.

China now has the world’s largest navy, with roughly 355 ships and submarines. The People’s Liberation Army has 975,000 active duty personnel in combat units, and has accelerated its training and fielding of equipment at a pace exceeding that of recent years. It is also expanding its nuclear weapon capabilities faster than previously predicted. The rapid acceleration of Beijing’s nuclear stockpile, which could top 1,000 deliverable warheads by 2030, is designed to match and even surpass the US global military might, according to the Pentagon. The US has 3,750 nuclear weapons in its stockpiles, and has no plans to increase that figure. The Chinese air force is the world’s third largest, with more than 2,800 aircraft in total, 2,250 of which consist of fighters, strategic bombers and attack aircraft. That expansion is part of the great Chinese plan to dominate the world economically and militarily, as well as in other areas that I will come to.

That is the context in which we have to judge the threat posed by the actions of President Xi and his Communist party cronies. We know how that has panned out in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Some of us have often been lone voices in the wilderness on the plight of the Tibetans. Since the early 1950s, and particularly since the invasion and takeover of Tibet in 1959, what has been playing out in Tibet—with the 1 million Tibetans who have lost their lives at the hands of the Chinese Communist party dictators—is a forerunner of what the CCP is capable of doing, and is doing, within the borders of China; and what it would like to do beyond the borders of what we recognise as China.

The hon. Member for Strangford fleshed out many of the horrors going on against the Uyghurs. It is estimated that several million Uyghurs are being held captive in concentration camps, where activities include mass surveillance, torture and repression of religion. They are interned for reasons that include communal religious activities, behaviour indicating “wrong thinking”—whatever that is—or for just no reason at all. The World Uyghur Congress observes that the camps operate as prisons, with no communication with family outside. The CCP regime is pursuing a campaign of forced sterilisation and forced abortion, along with the destruction of the Uyghur language. China is trying to erase the Uyghur people.

In 2021, Uyghur regions set an unprecedented near zero population growth, given the effects of sterilisation. According to Dr Joanne Smith Finley, a reader in Chinese studies at Newcastle University and a fellow sanctionee, when she interviewed a Uyghur man from Ürümqi, he said that some people were given medicine in those camps to change their thinking, only to become mentally ill. The CCP is aiming to wipe out three specific categories: intellectual Uyghurs, rich Uyghurs and religious Uyghurs.

A sub-committee in the Canadian Parliament has concluded that the acts carried out by China on the Uyghurs amount to genocide by the general accepted definition. That was the conclusion of the Uyghur tribunals, so well presided over by Sir Geoffrey Nice at the end of last year. That was the conclusion of a unanimous vote in Parliament at a debate we held last year on the subject. It is about time the British Government acknowledged that the Chinese are guilty of genocide and continue to wage that ghastly oppression against the Uyghur people. Many other Parliaments have acknowledged it. We must catch up.

This is not just about the Uyghurs within the borders of China. Uyghurs abroad have also been intimidated and spied on through apps such as WeChat by the Communist party, according to the Uyghur Human Rights Project. The late former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said,

“As a Jew, knowing our history, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains, and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing.”

We all saw those grim images and have heard so much that the Communist party has developed multiple levels of surveillance in the forms of Skynet and the “Safe City” and “Sharp Eyes” projects to keep track of every movement of its citizens. Of course, it is also spying on us through devices made in China and deployed across the west, including in the United Kingdom. Virtually weekly, we find a new case of the Chinese being able to survey what is going on in sensitive institutions in the UK.

Xi Jinping’s Tibet policy has been the systematic eradication of any and all distinctive features of Tibetan identity, carried out unchecked despite blatant human rights abuses. It includes plans to control the next incarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the uprooting of Tibetan children as young as four from their families into colonial boarding schools, the resettlement of Tibetan nomads and farmers in unfamiliar environments, including the harsh and uninhabitable frontier areas of Tibet along the Indian border, and Government-imposed restrictions on studying Tibetan language and religion.

Free Tibet and Tibet Watch have noted that the CCP has introduced massive changes in the past five years, from forcibly relocating Tibetans to clamping down on all aspects of religion, culture and language. Anyone caught in possession of a simple photograph of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is subject to a minimum five-year jail sentence without any questions being asked. Recently, the new crackdowns have led Tibet to be ranked 176th out of 180 countries by the Reporters Without Borders foundation in its press freedom index and to be ranked among the worst for civil and political rights in the “Freedom in the World” report by Freedom House. There are more foreign journalists in North Korea than in Tibet, such is the closed society. Our ambassador has not been able to travel to Tibet for several years now, nor have any of her staff. Most notably, torture and mistreatment have increased dramatically without impunity.

Chinese culture and the Mandarin language has been deemed the correct way forward after the 11 January 2020 passage by the 11th National People’s Congress of the “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region”. They are meant to safeguard the one-ness of the motherland, but contain punitive measures to punish those defecting from this one-ness.