Time to Confront China’s ‘Counterterrorism’ Claims in Xinjiang

Originally published by The Diplomat on 06/07/2021.

On July 5, 2009, unrest erupted in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in response to the murder of two Uyghur laborers by Han colleagues in Guangdong. Clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese, including the police, lasted until July 7, 2009, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 people. Since then, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used the language of extremism and terrorism to justify its assault on the region’s Muslim population.

Xi Jinping, on his first visit to Xinjiang as president in 2014, labelled the region the “front line against terrorism.” During and after his trip, in a series of conversations with party officials, Xi laid the groundwork for an all-out “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism.” He urged his comrades to show “absolutely no mercy.”



Biden’s Multilateral Approach to China Is Paying Off

Originally published by The Diplomat on 15/06/2021.

The G-7 may not have evolved into a permanent Democratic 10 (D10), but last weekend’s summit in Cornwall demonstrated the value of U.S. President Joe Biden’s multilateralist approach to China. Not only are liberal democracies more united, but the now have before them a practical initiative to rival Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In the runup to this year’s G-7 meeting, there was speculation that the meeting of leaders from the world’s leading democracies would be the launch pad for a D10 grouping. With the United Kingdom hosting, Prime Minister Boris Johnson took the initiative to invite fellow democracies Australia, India, and South Korea to the summit (subsequently, South Africa was also invited to join). The D10, as envisioned by Johnson’s team, would address issues relating to supply chains and 5G telecommunications.

While both issues are intrinsically linked to China, proposers of the D10 nevertheless insisted that it would not be an anti-China alliance. Yet such denials, genuine or not, failed to convince those cautious European nations keen to preserve their own distinctive, and less combative, approach to Beijing. These early signals should have made it clear that a formal D10 was not in the cards.



Beijing’s plan to pick the next Dalai Lama

Originally published by The Spectator on 24/05/2021.

Imagine for a moment that Cuba picked the next Pope. That is the scenario which Lobsang Sangay, the then-Sikyong (the Tibetan government-in-exile’s head of state), asked the world to consider several years ago in light of growing concerns that the Chinese Communist party (CCP) would seek to select the next Dalai Lama. Now such a possibility – that Beijing will attempt to impose their own man at the top of Tibetan Buddhism – seems increasingly plausible.

Last week, China’s State Council issued a white paper on Tibet to mark 70 years since the signing of the Seventeen Point Agreement, which incorporated Tibet into the People’s Republic of China. The title of the document – 'Tibet since 1951: Liberation, development and prosperity' – makes it all too clear this is CCP propaganda at its worst. It attempts to rewrite history by failing to acknowledge that this agreement was signed under duress. It also ignores the fact that Beijing has not upheld its promises to grant the Tibetan people autonomy, in particular the right to practice their own religion free from interference.



We Don’t Need to Wait on the UN to Expand Taiwan’s International Role

Originally published by The Diplomat on 06/05/2021.

The G-7 Foreign Ministers’ May 5 statement in support of Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO) is welcome but not sufficient. Liberal democracies can and should do more to undermine China’s efforts to isolate Taiwan. Moreover, given Beijing’s substantial influence within key international organizations they will need to be creative.

The news was welcome for several reasons, most notably because it is the first joint statement of this kind since the outbreak of COVID-19. Previously, supporters of Taiwan have been left wanting as the world’s liberal democracies either remained silent or offered piecemeal remarks. The communique’s clarity is also a step in the right direction. A 2019 G-7 statement in relation to the blocking of Taiwan from the International Civil Aviation Organization vaguely spoke of including “all active members of the international aviation community.” This one came right out with it and mentioned “Taiwan” directly.

Yet the statement remains a symbolic gesture. While it will help to ease the effects of Taiwan’s forced isolation, it will do nothing to solve the issue of the country’s continued exclusion from WHO forums and the World Health Assembly. This is a whole other challenge.



Condemning China’s human rights abuses shouldn’t stop us cooperating on climate change

Originally published by CapX on 27/04/2021.

During last week’s Commons debate on Xinjiang there was a curious mention of the environment. This was not some ham-fisted attempt to shoehorn in the fact that it was Earth Day, but rather a relevant warning to the British government that China could use the issue as leverage. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who brought it up, argued that cooperation on climate change with China should not hold the British government back from criticising Beijing’s appalling human rights record. That is, the two issues should be treated separately, even if Chinese officials want to link them together.

Sir Iain is right. Britain should talk to China about human rights and climate change. After all, both issues are of the utmost importance to the UK. Moreover, as the Biden Administration has demonstrated, it is possible to cooperate and condemn, without needing to tone down the latter to facilitate the former. The United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was clear in the run up to his visit to Shanghai last week: “Yes, we have big disagreements with China on some key issues, absolutely. But climate has to stand alone.”



In defence of Keir Starmer

Originally published by The Spectator on 24/02/2021.

Now that we've finally heard Boris Johnson's 'roadmap' out of lockdown, a key question remains: when will we see a return to politics as normal? It might not be the most pressing concern for most people, but for Keir Starmer and his supporters, it matters. Only when this happens can Labour start making some serious assaults on the Tories stubborn poll-lead.

As a Labour member of ten or so years I want Starmer to have a chance to shine. After all, it is not like my party has been blessed with great leaders in recent years. Much of my time on the doorstep during the 2010 and 2015 general elections involved shying away from talk about leadership. When I wasn't fending off these comments, I was being battered around the head with questions about selling gold or brotherly back-stabbing. I wasn't alone: Labour friends of mine say this was an experience which only got much worse under Jeremy Corbyn.

So I was very glad when Starmer won the leadership, and happier still when the media heaped praise on him. Not only was he 'forensic' but also 'prime-ministerial'. You can imagine my excitement at the prospect of canvassing under a popular leader. What a novelty! Of course, any door knocking would be contingent on the lifting of lockdown restrictions, but I could wait. Well, I thought I could. It turns out it’s too late now. Keir Starmer just hasn’t got it, or at least that appears to be the verdict from many political commentators.



Is China’s hidden hand behind the Myanmar coup?

Originally published by The Spectator on 04/02/2021.

Was China involved in the coup in Myanmar? It seems unlikely, but that does not mean Beijing is blameless.

As satisfying as it might be to point the finger at an omnipotent and scheming superpower, the reality is rather more complicated. After all, for all the shenanigans associated with China's wolf-warrior diplomacy, Beijing is not as reckless or revisionist in its ambitions as it was back in the mid-to-late-60s.

Back then, amidst the chaos of the cultural revolution, Mao set about spreading his revolutionary thought abroad. Myanmar was firmly in his sights.

In Southeast Asia, Beijing supplied communist guerrillas with money, weapons and training in an effort to instigate civil wars. In Myanmar, the ethnic-Chinese minority was also mobilised. On the streets of Yangon, they wore with pride badges of the Great Helmsman and brandished copies of the Little Red Book. The result was bloodshed. Not that this bothered Mao; he believed his country was leading a righteous Third World front against American imperialism and Soviet revisionism. Even if it was a rather lonely crusade.