Ultimately this is just an attempt to distract from the international condemnation of Beijing’s increasingly grave human rights violations against the Uyghurs. This is a response to the coordinated sanctions agreed by democratic nations on those responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. This is the first time Beijing has targeted elected politicians in the UK with sanctions and shows they are increasingly pushing boundaries.
It is tempting to laugh off this measure as a diplomatic tantrum. But in reality it is profoundly sinister and just serves as a clear demonstration of many of the concerns we have been raising about the direction of China under Xi Jinping. Other mainstream European think tanks have also been sanctioned this week and it is telling that China now responds to even moderate criticism with sanctions, rather than attempting to defend its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
As British legislators this will not actually affect us hugely, but the point of Beijing’s actions is to make others feel threatened, and to have a chilling effect on business people in particular. The sanctions come in a week where yet more Western businesses are discovering that China is becoming a dangerous place to do business, with H&M and others facing huge financial losses because their statements supporting basic human rights have offended an increasingly nationalistic and unpredictable Communist party.
The China Research Group has been trying to understand contemporary China better. One of our growing concerns has been that under Xi China has been moving away from a path of openness and cooperation and towards a path of increasing nationalism and aggression. This latest sinister attempt to shut down debate even within established democracies sadly just underlines those concerns.
As so often with Beijing, these sanctions are deliberately vaguely defined. Depending on what they mean by sanctioning the entire China Research Group, more than 100 UK MPs who have participated in our work and events could theoretically be covered by this, including senior members of every major UK political party.
Tom Tugendhat and Neil O’Brien
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