Sanctions will not silence me from speaking out against China’s abuse of the Uyghurs
In the context of gross and widespread human rights abuses, we have a duty to speak out. If the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) thinks that threats and intimidation will lead to silence, they have made a grave miscalculation.
The APPG on Hong Kong and the Uyghurs have tirelessly worked to highlight atrocity crimes in Xinjiang and to support the pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong.
While reports of genocide continue to emerge from Xinjiang, and the leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement are all incarcerated, facing charges, or in exile, Parliamentarians who support them have now been sanctioned – barring entry to China, Hong Kong or Macau, and prohibiting Chinese citizens and institutions from doing business with us.
These sanctions have been imposed on us for “maliciously spreading lies and disinformation” about Xinjiang.
The intended purpose of such sanctions is to silence critics of Beijing.
But they have the opposite effect – demonstrating demands to hold to account those responsible for crimes against Hongkongers and Uyghurs are reaching the ears of those responsible.
Every time Beijing tries to silence one voice it ensures that hundreds more are raised in defense of freedom, democracy, and human rights.
If the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) thinks that threats and intimidation will lead to silence, they have made a grave miscalculation. They should think again.
As democrats of course we believe in discourse and dialogue and we should certainly engage with China - but that can never mean unquestioningly kowtowing to the Chinese Communist Party line. In the context of gross and widespread human rights abuses, parliamentarians in free nations will always have a duty to speak out.
Those who stand with Hong Kong and with the Uyghurs do so because they stand for democracy and freedom and against egregious human rights violations
Global Britain’s reputation in the Far East must always be underpinned by our contemporary values, including democracy, rule of law, respect, tolerance, and individual liberty. From Xinjiang to Hong Kong, from Tibet to Taiwan, all of these are under direct threat.
And it’s not just parliamentarians. Attempts have been made to silence the BBC and countries like Australia which dare to ask uncomfortable questions.
If we are to be true to our nation’s core values, we must defend them worldwide – and especially in Hong Kong.
As a pen holder of the Sino-British Declaration, we have a special responsibility to defend Hongkongers now routinely persecuted for supporting the values we share.
But there is also a direct link with Xinjiang – where we routinely profit off the backs of slave labour and a genocidal State.
Don’t those who say we should accept Beijing’s right to subjugate Hong Kong see the same authoritarian hand at work in the forced labour camps of Xinjiang?
Do they honestly believe the UK government was wrong to block UK businesses from capitalising from the cotton produced by a million Uyghur Muslims enslaved in the industry and abused, tortured, and sterilized at the hands of the CCP?
How would it be possible for the UK to ignore this level of abhorrent behaviour while still upholding our beliefs?
True engagement with China would involve maintaining open communication with Beijing, as an important world power, while also upholding our historic, moral, and legal duty to Hong Kong, and to ethnic and religious minorities like the Uyghurs, by holding Beijing to account for breaches of international Treaties and atrocity crimes.
Ultimately, it is a falsehood to suggest that those who defend the rights of Hongkongers do so out of hatred for the Chinese. Quite the reverse.
Those who stand with Hong Kong and with the Uyghurs do so because they stand for democracy and freedom and against egregious human rights violations, wherever they occur. They are not motivated by Sinophobia.
You can love and respect the Chinese people and an ancient civilisation while calling out, clearly and directly, the brutal thuggery of the CCP. The CCP needs to be held to account for their brutal actions - not the Chinese people.
The UK has a moral, historical, and legal duty to speak and to act. Sanctions should not deter British parliamentarians from doing their duty.
Lord Alton is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and vice-chair of the APPG on Hong Kong and the APPG on Uyghurs.