Taming the Chinese Dragon

If you wanted to write a dystopian novel about the nefarious practices of some fictitious totalitarian regime intent on suppressing all forms of dissent and domestic disaffection for its rule, you would be hard-pressed to match the litany of horrors documented in Benedict Rogers’ The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has targeted Chinese groups it considers insufficiently subservient to its authority or in accord with its ideals and values.

Among the most heinous forms of ill-treatment that the book claims the Chinese Community Party has meted out on one unfortunate group of Chinese citizens have been those alleged to have been inflicted upon the Uyghurs. These are Muslim ethnic minority residents in the province of Xinjiang (aka East Turkistan). They include mass involuntary organ-harvesting (also allegedly carried out on practitioners of the ancient Buddhist form of meditation-cum-exercise known as Falun-Gong); the prolonged incarceration of millions of Uyghurs in detention camps, euphemistically dubbed “re-education camps”; the widespread and commonplace torture and forced labor of Uyghur detainees, as well as being gang-raped by their guards; the separation from their families of at least half a million Uyghur children and their involuntary incarceration in “boarding schools,” “orphanages,” or “child welfare guidance centers” where they are forced to shout patriotic slogans, learn Mandarin, and answer questions about their parents. Last but not least, there is also the alleged mass forced sterilisation and abortions of Uyghur women, abuses which several Parliaments around the world, including Britain’s, have deemed amount to genocide, something also claimed by then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the final days of the Trump administration.

It was in 1992, during a gap year between school and university, when Rogers first visited China, leaving his native England to spend six months in the Chinese seaside town of Qingdao to teach English to high-school students. During this time, he explains, he acquired what proved a lifelong love of the Chinese people and their culture. Although his first stay came just three years after the notorious massacre in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square of hundreds, possibly thousands, of peacefully protesting Chinese students, Rogers recalls of his first visit to China that: “Most of the time I did not feel the repression of the Chinese Communist Party.”

So enamoured did Rogers become with China that he returned several times there to teach English before completing his university studies whereupon he took up his first full-time appointment, working in Hong Kong as a journalist and later editor. He did so late in September 1997, just weeks after Britain finally handed over the former British colony to China, its lease of the island having run out. By then, British rule had so familiarised Hong Kong’s islanders with British ways as to render both them and the manner of their governance very different from that of Chinese mainlanders. The agreement between China and Britain was designed to preserve and respect those differences. In the slogan of the time, there would be “one country but two systems.” Rogers soon discovered whilst working there, the agreement was one that the CCP would progressively start to break, much to the mounting anger of Hong Kong’s residents.

When Rogers returned to England in 2002, he left optimistic about Hong Kong’s future: “I genuinely felt that ’one country, two systems’ was working well … [and that] day-to-day freedoms [in China] were reasonably intact.”

Rogers’ optimism was soon to prove itself misplaced. The Arab Spring of 2010, plus other so-called ”color” revolutions, such as Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004 and Maidan Uprising of 2013–14, frightened Chinese leaders into thinking similar serious disorder might erupt in China unless nipped in the bud through intensified repression. When Xi Jinping assumed office as general secretary of the CCP at the end of 2012, Rogers writes: “It soon became apparent … that Xi would take China backwards politically and in terms of human rights.”

Besides the persecution of the Uyghurs, other human rights abuses that Rogers claims other Chinese have suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party include the imprisonment of non-violent political protestors, book-sellers, and human rights activists in Hong Kong, together with the forced extraction of “confessions” from many of them, plus the assault of journalists reporting about these protestors and medics treating them; the involuntary relocation between 2006 and 2021 of two million Tibetan nomadic herders, some nearby, others at great distance; the curtailment of teaching the Tibetan language in Tibetan schools to as many as 800,000 Tibetan children, plus their “Sinicization” in Chinese boarding schools where parents are obliged to send them through lack of alternatives.

There has also been considerable persecution of Chinese Christians: most notably, the compulsory closure of China’s unregistered (aka “house”) churches, along with the proscription of participation in religious activities of all Chinese children under eighteen, Communist Party members and members of the military; together with the placement by the Chinese government of pressure on State-controlled churches “to display portraits of Xi Jinping and Communist Party propaganda slogans alongside—or even sometimes instead of—religious images; sing Communist Party anthems at the start of services and install surveillance cameras at the altar to monitor worshippers. In addition to preaching loyalty and obedience to the Party and studying Marx, [since the end of 2021] Christian pastors and preachers are required to study the Party’s teachings and understand that “the main aim of each Christian community is to rally Christians around the CCP.”

Another case in point illustrative of Xi’s seeming wanton disregard for human life, one as detrimental to the rest of the world as it has been to the Chinese people, was his allegedly deliberate delay in publicising the outbreak of COVID-19 after it began late in 2019. Had he acted as soon as he became aware of the outbreak of the epidemic, to which he reportedly was alerted early in December 2019, and which he was legally bound to do by a treaty to which China was a party, the global pandemic could have been averted and millions of lives saved.

Under WHO International Health Regulations, adopted in 2005 and to which China was a signatory, the Chinese government had placed itself under a legal obligation to report in a timely fashion information about outbreaks of epidemics in its jurisdiction. Allegedly, Xi did not make public an outbreak of the respiratory disease until two weeks after he was informed about it.

There is very strong evidence to suggest that the CCP deliberately suppressed Chinese physicians who sought to alert the Chinese public and fellow doctors to the outbreak of the disease before it was publicly announced. Some Chinese physicians who attempted to warn colleagues about the disease were detained by the authorities for “spreading rumours.” Others simply vanished, or ”were disappeared” to use the jargon also applied to many other Chinese dissidents who have seemingly suffered similar fates. Rogers quotes a study by the University of Southampton which calculated that: “if information had been shared and interventions made even ‘one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 percent, 86 percent, and 95 percent respectively.’”

An international inquiry into the causes of the COVID-19 pandemic is among ten recommendations Rogers makes in his final chapter as to how the West might best respond to the CCP’s multifarious infractions of human rights. Ultimately, he recognises it must be for the Chinese people themselves to overturn their tyrannical form of government. However, he also recognises that their prospects of being able or even their wanting to will remain small so long as the CCP maintains as tight a control as it does over both them and what public information they may consume. To loosen that grip and provide support and encouragement to Chinese nationals disaffected with CCP rule, Rogers recommends nine other measures besides calling for an inquiry into the causes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the last half-century, political leaders in the West have very badly misjudged how best to help lead China away from totalitarian tyranny.

The recommendations Rogers makes fall into three groups. The first group of recommendations are ones intended to end impunity and ensure the accountability of grave violators of human rights in China by bringing sanctions to bear on them. “That means,” writes Rogers, “Magnitsky-style sanctions against individual officials in Beijing, Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. … It also means sanctions against commercial entities complicit with the CCP’s regime of repression and surveillance.”

Furthermore, the West could bring the Chinese regime to justice by establishing tribunals to determine guilt. Rogers cites as models two tribunals that have already been held in London. The first was held in 2018 to look into the forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China. The second, the so-called People’s Tribunal, was held in 2021 to assess whether the actions of the Chinese government against the Uyghurs amounted to genocide and which it was found to do. Rogers hails that verdict as historic, since, he says it was: ”the first time any quasi-judicial body, independent of any government, has offered such a judgment. … The Tribunal has done its job. It is up to governments around the world now to do theirs. They have a duty to stop genocide.’”

The second group of recommendations Rogers makes are ones seeking to create lifelines for those seeking to escape persecution in China and to provide them platforms from which to speak publicly about what they have suffered. “That means not only lifeboat schemes and better asylum processes, but also more overt recognition and support. … Western political leaders should make a point of meeting Uyghur, Tibetan, and Hong Kong activists, and Chinese dissidents unashamedly.” Rogers also calls for finding and implementing ways to circumvent or break down what he calls “the Great Firewall of China” currently preventing information freely circulating on the Internet there.

Rogers’ third and final group of recommendations are ones he thinks the West needs to implement to protect its own cherished liberal order. He writes:

The free world must absolutely diversify supply chains; reduce strategic dependency on China; divest from unethical investments; ensure that Beijing is in no doubt about our intentions to defend Taiwan; and defend academic freedom in our universities by reducing financial dependence on Chinese funding and extracting the CCP’s Confucius Institutes from them … [as well as] tackling the Chinese regime’s influence and infiltration operations and strengthening the alliances among democracies.

Implementing all these measures would doubtless keep many in the West busy for the foreseeable future. Equally as doubtless, many there will be inclined to dismiss Rogers’ recommendations as daydreams of a starry-eyed liberal who lacks any true grasp of the harsh realities of geopolitics and the importance of the bottom line in economic matters, as well as of the danger that quasi-judicial bodies of the sort Rogers recommends can all too easily be put to advance highly illiberal ends, including the promotion of spuriously claimed human rights.

Against such a hasty dismissal of Rogers’ proposed remedies there must, however, be set the fact (increasingly albeit belatedly recognised in the West) that for the last half-century, our political leaders have very badly misjudged how best to help lead China away from totalitarian tyranny. Engagement and integration, initially cultural and later economic, have failed abysmally to tame the Chinese dragon. Only a total moral cynic could simply shrug their shoulders and walk away from the multifarious serious human rights violations that Rogers has painstakingly documented in this book.

What obligation Westerners have to help combat these violations is worthy of the most serious consideration. Of Rogers’ three sets of recommendations, those falling into the third group are vital to safeguard the interests of the West. Sending a US Secretary of State to play footsie with his Chinese counterpart or even Xi himself is simply not a good enough response by the West to the mounting danger that the Chinese regime represents to its vital interests as well to the regime’s ill-treatment of its own nationals.



Half a Worm

Tim Cook leads the tech industry's participation in assisting China's internet surveillance of its own citizens.