Ruling Conservatives in U.K. echo Joe Biden’s call for coalition of democracies to confront China

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Written in the Globe and Mail:

A commission established by the ruling Conservative Party in Britain has written a report calling for a “coalition of democracies” to craft a global response to human-rights abuses in China, one that would bring together Canada and other members of the Group of Seven industrialized countries as well as the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance and like-minded countries in Asia.

This echoes a call by U.S. president-elect Joe Biden to knit together a united front of “democratic partners” to stand up to China on human rights but also on unfair trade.

The new report of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission is called The Darkness Deepens: the Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2016-2020; it will be officially released on Wednesday. It calls on the government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead an international response to Beijing as the repression of civil rights in Hong Kong intensifies and concerns grow about incarceration and forced labour in the Xinjiang region of northwestern China.

“Freedom of religion or belief is under the most severe crackdown since the Cultural Revolution,” the report says, referring to the 10 years of upheaval that began in 1966.

Mr. Biden pledged during his campaign to convene a “summit for democracy” to take a global leadership role on freedoms and rights – stepping back from the often unilateral actions on China taken by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“And as we compete with China and hold China’s government accountable for its abuses on trade, technology, human rights and other fronts, our position will be much stronger when we build coalitions of like-minded partners and allies to make common cause with us in defence of our shared interests and values,” Mr. Biden said in a speech late last year.

“We are almost 25 per cent of the global economy on our own, but together with our democratic partners, we more than double our economic leverage.”

The British report said China has not only become more repressive in the past four years but is increasingly exporting this authoritarian model, and the technology that enables it, to other countries. Beijing, it said, “is building an all-encompassing surveillance state” with Chinese national champion Huawei Technologies “at the heart of this operation.” And now, “China is selling this technology to other dictatorships,” it said.

It also raises concern about China’s increasing influence at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, accusing Beijing of “efforts to subvert” international mechanisms that might address escalating human-rights abuses by the Chinese state.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong endorsed the report and urged the Trudeau government to join in any global effort to hold China accountable for its human-rights abuses.

China’s arrests of 55 Hong Kong democracy activists last week drive home the need to stand up to Beijing’s authoritarian rulers, he said.

“Beijing is increasingly emboldened by the lack of action on the part of Western democracies in furthering its crackdown in western China, in Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan, so we need to realize that standing by and being passive further emboldens the regime to crackdown,” he said.

Mr. Chong said he hopes the Canadian government would also be supportive of a plan now being considered by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on up to five Chinese officials considered responsible for forced labour of Uyghurs in Chinese supply chains.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne did not have an immediate response to the British report. On Sunday, he issued a joint statement with his counterparts from Australia, the U.S. and Britain to condemn the arrests of the Hong Kong activists.

The British report also makes clear the target of its concern is not China itself – “a great and ancient civilization that has contributed so much to the world … and deserves to be free, to flourish and takes its rightful and responsible place on the world stage.” Instead the rising concern is reserved for the autocratic Chinese Communist Party.

The report also shines a spotlight on “forced labour” in China that is producing goods used in the supply chains of at least 83 global brands.

It says more than 100 journalists are now detained in dangerous conditions in China and that “forced confessions are now commonplace,” with state broadcasters used to film and broadcast these incidents. The report cites Reporters without Borders’ 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which ranks China 177 out of 180 countries.

China’s silencing of whistle-blowers, including citizen journalists and doctors, at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the “spread and severity of the virus,” the report said.

Torture in China is “endemic, widespread, systematic and conducted with impunity,” the report said.

Among other examples, it cited the case of Simon Cheng, a local employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong citizen was beaten and tortured for two weeks after a 2019 trip to mainland China where authorities accused him of being a spy.

“If the Chinese Communist Party regime tortures an employee of the British consulate-general in Hong Kong in this way, one can only imagine how much worse the use of torture is against unknown mainland Chinese activists,” the report said.

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