The Chinese Communist Party is an unreliable partner, who Britain must stop blindly kowtowing to, argues James Bickerton

There is, by any objective measure, no organisation in human history that has done more to suppress basic human rights than the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As I write it holds over 1.4 billion people, the largest nation in the world, under conditions of quasi-servitude. Their safety, liberty and property are dependent entirely on obedience to the Chinese state. The CCP facilitated the butchery of Mao Zedong, the most prolific mass murderer our species has thus far produced. Whilst its largest abandoned communist economics the CCP remains wedded to the ideology's extreme authoritarianism, based on the Leninist 'democratic centralist' principle of submission to the party.

The malevolence of the Chinese state, and the threat it poses to other nations, has been starkly illustrated by its response to the coronavirus outbreak. In December after the disease first emerged in Hubei province a local doctor, Li Wengliang, noted patients were suffering from symptoms similar to the SARS virus and raised the warning to fellow doctors on social media. Four days later he was called to a nearby police station and forced to sign a letter admitting to "making false comments" that "disturbed the social order".

Around the same time several laboratories managed to sequence the coronavirus genome, and reported the findings, which suggested a SARS like disease, to China's National Health Commission. Instead of taking swift action authorities supressed the reports, ordering laboratories to destroy or surrender their samples and not release any information to the public. It wasn't until January 20 that Chinese authorities admitted the virus could be passed between people and three days later the city of Wuhan was put into lockdown.

In total it took the Chinese state a month to realise that, unlike its political opponents, a virus can't be bullied or beaten into submission. The lost time was decisive. A Southampton University study concluded China could have prevented 95 percent of its coronavirus cases if it had imposed its restrictions just three weeks earlier. Eventually, when Chinese authorities realised what they were dealing with, they reacted efficiently, even brutally. But by this point the damage was done. The virus had escaped its cage and become a global crisis.

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to:

Rather than admitting its errors Beijing doubled down and attempted to shift the blame. Baseless conspiracy theories were promoted alleging coronavirus originated in Italy, or was introduced to China by American soldiers. A number of Chinese citizens who criticised their Government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak have since disappeared, assumed arrested. Virtually nobody believes the coronavirus infection and death figures provided by the Chinese state, with some reports suggesting they could be out by a factor of ten. It may be that even Beijing is partially in the dark, as terrified local Communist Party functionaries downplay the figures to avoid official rebuke.

All this being the case you might have thought the British political class would be wary of entanglements with the Chinese state. Instead they're falling over each other to submit to its flirtations. Earlier this month British Steel was brought out by the Jingye Group, a Chinese conglomerate. Considering the blurred lines between the Chinese state and private sector this gives Beijing influence over half of Britain's steel making capacity. Just weeks earlier Boris Johnson agreed Chinese technology giant Huawei could have a limited, but still deeply influential, role in the creation of the UK's 5G network. This was despite warnings, both from the US Government and the foreign affairs select committee chair, that this would leave Britain dangerously exposed to Chinese interference.

As China's economic influence within the UK strengthens so does its political power. Gradually, but noticeably, British institutions speak out less over Tibet, Hong Kong, Uyghurstan and other human rights abuses. No British Prime Minister has dared meet the Dalai Lama since Cameron enraged Beijing in 2012. The Government's response to the Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors was at best tepid, and that of the Labour leadership no better.

Currently over a million Muslims, primarily Uighurs, are being imprisoned and sometimes tortured in Chinese re-education camps in the east of the country. In response to one of the most brutal abuses of human dignity currently taking place the British Government, and other western powers, have offered some condemnation, but nothing that could reasonably be construed as action. Global indifference to the treatment of the Uighurs is one of the grimmest moral failings of our age, as well as an indication that 20th century lessons about the persecution of marginalised groups are being forgotten. In academic a recent report from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee found "alarming evidence" that the Chinese state is trying to "shape the research agenda or curricula of UK universities".

The coronavirus crisis is a global social and economic disaster, but it's also a warning. The Beijing regime is not a reliable or friendly partner. Its instincts are authoritarian, even totalitarian, with human rights an irritation to be ignored. Placing key parts of our national infrastructure, such as Britain's 5G network, is grossly irresponsible. We are putting our arm in the tiger's mouth based on a vague assurance it won't bite. But once the flesh is in place more primal instincts, the inherent desire of authoritarian states for power and submission, may kick in. If they do, truthfully, we will have few people to blame but ourselves. History is rarely kind to the clinically naïve.

17 votes

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy