DOMINIC LAWSON: We've been far too cosy with China

DOMINIC LAWSON: We’ve been far too cosy with China, but a Tory revolt is fighting back

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How mortifying to be complimented by a representative of the totalitarian regime now in the global dock for its conduct during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet that is where our Government finds itself.

Last week, the long-serving Chinese ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, said that the UK was a ‘model’ for other nations in maintaining a good relationship with Beijing.

He added: ‘I am confident that China and the UK will emerge from this test with a more mature and robust relationship.’

More robust would be good. But not in the way the ambassador meant. Fortunately, a group of Conservative MPs have just launched the ‘China Research Group’. 

Its name is a deliberate echo of the European Research Group (ERG), the Conservative parliamentary body that spearheaded the party’s decades-long move away from the status quo in the EU and towards the schism with Brussels that became Brexit (and ended David Cameron’s career).

A group of Conservative MPs have just launched the ‘China Research Group’, led by Tom Tugendhat (pictured)

Reward

The ERG was almost entirely populated by those on the Right of the party. But this new body — dedicated to critically analysing the relationship with Beijing — draws its membership from a broader base. 

It is led by Tom Tugendhat, the impressive chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, who is described as ‘centrist’. Its secretary is Neil O’Brien, previously an advisor to George Osborne.

This is telling. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer was the leading advocate of going all-in on economic co-dependency with China, notably with Huawei, the cutting edge of the Chinese state’s drive for technological domination.

Visiting Beijing in 2013, Osborne declared, to his hosts’ delight: ‘There are some Western governments that have blocked Huawei. Not Britain. Quite the opposite.’

Visiting Beijing in 2013, George Osborne declared, to his hosts’ delight: ‘There are some Western governments that have blocked Huawei. Not Britain. Quite the opposite’

That distinction is more obvious than ever under the leadership of Boris Johnson. The PM’s decision to reward Huawei with the British contract for the installation of 5G — the telecoms network of the future — has astounded our English-speaking allies in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing network (the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

On March 10, the Government defeated an amendment backed by Tory rebels which would have compelled it to end Huwaei’s involvement no later than January 1, 2023. 

But its majority was reduced to 23 and would probably have been down to single figures if Labour — which sees this as a rare opportunity to defeat the Government — had not had so many absences as a result of its leadership election.

That was before British politicians became aware of the extent of Beijing’s manipulation of the World Health Organisation during the pandemic (denying at a critical stage that there was any human-to-human transmission and silencing Chinese doctors who told the truth).

Or as Tugendhat, a former Army officer, put it: ‘The one thing that really marks out the Chinese Communist Party is not that they didn’t have sufficient data, but that they falsified the data.’

Having spoken to Tugendhat yesterday, I am now confident that if the Government brings the Telecoms Security Bill to the Commons this summer (as it originally intended), he and his fellow members of the China Research Group will raise enough Tory rebels to defeat the legislation required to authorise Huawei’s involvement in the 5G network.

It’s not only in the UK that a political battle is going on between what I would describe as China appeasers and China realists. Last week, the EU released a report on how certain governments have produced ‘disinformation’ (the diplomatic term for lies) about coronavirus.

But, as revealed by the New York Times (no friend of Donald Trump): ‘Bowing to heavy pressure from Beijing, EU officials softened their criticism of China.

Pictured: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian speaks during a daily briefing on February 24

‘They first delayed and then rewrote the document in ways that diluted the focus on China, a vital trading partner — taking a very different approach [from] the confrontational stance adopted by the Trump administration.’ 

For example, the EU document excised a reference to posts on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Paris that had accused French nursing-home staff of having ‘deserted collectively, leaving their residents to die of hunger and disease’.

The point of these posts is to convince the French public that their own system, and not China’s, is primarily responsible for whatever suffering they endure from Covid-19. (The same motive lay behind the decision of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, to tweet preposterous claims that the virus had originally been unleashed on Wuhan by the U.S. military — and to urge his Twitter followers to spread the message.)

Some European nations have decided to act individually. The Swedish government last week shut down the last of its Confucius Institutes — Chinese state-sponsored teaching programmes, of which there are still 29 in the UK. The first European branch of these Chinese ‘soft power’ outlets had been in Sweden.

But after Stockholm supported a Swedish publisher living in Hong Kong who was arrested after being critical of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing’s ambassador to Sweden railed: ‘For our enemies, we have a shotgun.’

Never forget it is the threat of physical annihilation, and not just arrest, that maintains the Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorship over its people. The retelling last week by the BBC’s John Simpson of his intimate witnessing of the 1989 massacre of unarmed students in and around Tiananmen Square — the blood of some of the victims spattering his own clothes as they fell — was salutary.

Fury

The Chinese Communist Party habitually denounces its Western critics as ‘imperialist’ and ‘racist’: in the row over the role of the pro-Beijing Ethiopian head of the WHO, Beijing malevolently declared that Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus had been described as ‘negro’ by ’80 French parliamentarians’ critical of his relationship with China. They did no such thing.

But in China itself, in recent weeks, there has been appalling racism directed against its own African migrant workers, supposedly justified on the basis that they are asymptomatic transmitters of Covid-19 to the indigenous population.

Local staff in a McDonald’s in Guangzhou, the centre of the African diaspora in China, put up a sign declaring: ‘From now on, black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant.’ 


Local staff in a McDonald’s in Guangzhou, the centre of the African diaspora in China, put up a sign declaring: ‘From now on, black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant’ 

Hundreds of African migrant workers and students were tossed out of their accommodation and onto the streets by landlords and local officials.

The result was that a dozen African countries summoned their Chinese ambassadors. One such carpeting was filmed, showing the representative from Beijing squirming as the speaker of the Kenyan parliament expressed his fury at the racism displayed in China to his co-nationals. 

Given the importance of Africa in Beijing’s drive for the raw materials needed for its own sustenance and prosperity, this is highly embarrassing.

But nowhere near as embarrassing as our own continuingly cosy relationship with the Communist dictatorship that lied to the world about Covid-19. 

HAS COVID CLAIMED OBESE KIM? 

The health statisticians tell us that obese people of all ages have been disproportionately numerous in the ‘died from Covid-19’ column. 

This has set me thinking about the rumours of the death of the 36-year-old North Korean hereditary dictator, Kim Jong-un.

The government of that intermittently starving nation had boasted ‘there is not even one infected person in our republic’. 

Pictured:  Kim Jong Un attends a session of the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang last year

Given it shares an 880-mile border with China, this is risible. Yet what I can say almost for certain, having studied many pictures of Kim Jong-un surrounded by his compulsorily adoring compatriots, is that the prodigiously pampered great leader is (or was) the only fat person in North Korea.

Kim Jong-un ate all the pies.

Perhaps we should add him to the statisticians’ chart showing the obese as the most vulnerable to Covid-19.

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