UK should take China to task on human rights and Taiwan, MPs say

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Britain must take a tougher stance on China over its severe human rights abuses and help Taiwan build its defences to deter a potential attack from Beijing, an influential group of MPs says.

With the foreign secretary, James Cleverly, scheduled to land in China on Wednesday for a first official visit in five years, a report from the foreign affairs select committee says ministers have to call out the country’s transnational repression.

China’s behaviour is a threat to world security that cannot be ignored, it says.

The Chinese Communist party (CCP) is “seeking to silence criticism of its human rights abuses, and impose its foreign policy and Xi Jinping’s thought beyond its own borders”, the committee, which is Tory controlled, writes. “This is a challenge to the functioning of democracies globally.”

In an embarrassment for Cleverly, the committee accuses him of leaving a void in the government’s China policy, which it says has been kept secret from ministers – leaving universities, companies and Whitehall departments confused about what interactions with China are permissible.

It proposes ministers publish an unclassified version of its China strategy.

The foreign secretary’s long planned visit had been diplomatically choreographed to give the impression that the UK was seeking to repair political and economic cooperation with Beijing on issues such as the climate crisis, trade and Ukraine without abandoning western values. He is expected to meet his counterpart, Wang Yi, and China’s vice-president, Han Zheng.

It remains to be seen if the Chinese government dismisses the blunt select committee findings as an irrelevant coincidence, or instead views the report as a way for the UK government to convey its true hostility to the CCP leadership.

Sources said the timing of the report was indeed a coincidence, emphasising that publication had always been planned for the first half of this week.

With ministers hoping to set up a summit between Rishi Sunak and Xi Jinping at the G20 in India next month, the UK will be hoping China chooses to distinguish between the views of the British executive and parliament.

Cleverly defended his China engagement strategy saying: “To consciously withdraw and not utilise our standing in the world, the authority and voice that we have, that would be seen as a sign of weakness, not a sign of strength.”

He also said he would not conduct British foreign affairs by“catchphrase”, a reference to those, such as the former PM Liz Truss, who want China to be officially designated a threat.

The select committee says the UK’s China strategy has been withheld from many ministers for security reasons, making it difficult for “both state and non-state actors, including civil servants, academics and businesses” to comply with government plans.

“Given the publication by Germany of a China strategy, it is evidently possible for the UK government to publish a public, unclassified strategy,” it says.

The committee also calls for a centralised definition of critical national infrastructure to reverse the UK’s already excessive over-reliance on Chinese technology.

The report says China is “seeking to extend its power to other countries with the explicit use of transnational repression as a form of foreign policy”.

It calls for a clear policy of zero tolerance on such repression, and questions why no Chinese diplomats were expelled from the UK after a demonstrator was manhandled by diplomats at a protest outside China’s consulate in Manchester.

The report says: “This is not the policy we adopt with our closest allies, and it is weak to adopt it when the PRC [People’s Republic of China] continues to perpetrate, as parliament has declared it, a genocide by the PRC in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs, severe human rights abuses in Tibet, and egregious violations of the agreements reached with the UK to uphold the rights of individuals in Hong Kong.

“Government action remains restricted to condemnatory words.”

The committee said the UK government should strengthen political and cultural ties with Taiwan, negotiate free trade agreements with it and champion its membership of international bodies such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – proposals that will infuriate the Chinese leadership.

“China is now involved in an explicit effort to coerce Taiwan, or to take it by force, in defiance of the self-determination of the people of Taiwan, to create an additional province of the People’s Republic of China,” the report says.

“As part of its efforts to undermine the success of Taiwan, and its independent government, the CCP mounts cyber-attacks against Taiwan daily, intending to weaken the resolve of its people and sow division between Taiwan and countries that support its democracy and right to self-determination.

“Despite protestations that it is not, China is seeking to project its power worldwide by exerting pressure, economic as well as diplomatic, on countries to recognise its sovereignty over Taiwan.”

Nor will Beijing like the committee’s emphasis on the UK building military and trade partnerships with countries in the region hostile to China, such as Indonesia, India, Japan and Australia. It is likely to feel the strategy confirms the UK is involved in a containment or encirclement plan.

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