Why do we kowtow to a vile dictatorship that covers up Covid’s origins, threatens Taiwan and carries out genocide?

Published by The Daily Mail (2nd May, 2023)

As he flew back from the ceremonies marking the handover of Hong Kong to China in July 1997, the future King Charles jotted down his thoughts on what he had witnessed in a 3,000-word journal.

He described the Communist Party chiefs as ‘appalling old waxworks’, wrote of the party faithful cheering a ‘propaganda speech’ and recalled his anguish as he watched goose-stepping soldiers hauling down the Union Flag in an ‘awful Soviet-style display’.

Despite the mood of naive optimism that Beijing would stick to the ‘one country, two systems’ deal agreed with Britain — whereby Hong Kong would be treated differently from mainland China, with more freedom and democracy — the Prince confessed he was fearful.

He reflected on leaving the city-state ‘to her fate’ and hoped ‘Martin Lee, the leader of the Democrats, would not be arrested . . .’.

His hopes were dashed. Lee, a genial barrister famed as the ‘father of democracy’ in the territory, was arrested two years ago at the age of 82, then given a suspended prison sentence to silence him.

Alongside him in the dock were nine other leading pro-democracy figures, who were among more than 10,000 rounded up after protests in Hong Kong in the wake of moves to allow extradition to mainland China in 2019-2020.

They included the media magnate Jimmy Lai, who was sent to prison in 2020 and has remained there since.

The 75-year-old, who owned a popular daily newspaper and was a strong critic of China’s human rights abuses, faces another trial later this year, on charges of conspiring to collude with foreign forces, and possible life imprisonment.

Yet his only ‘crimes’ are the pursuit of journalism, the promotion of democracy and, ultimately, his belief that the Chinese Communist goons should keep their word and allow the ‘one country, two systems’ deal to continue.

Jimmy Lai is a British citizen. Yet shamefully, Britain — unlike both the EU and the U.S. — has failed to publicly condemn his treatment.

Instead, we have to witness the sickening sight of our Government rolling out the red carpet for the architect of Hong Kong’s crackdown, Han Zheng, 69, who was recently promoted to vice president and is expected here for King Charles’s Coronation.

This week it emerged that the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly — who last week gave a supine speech pleading for more engagement with China — is hoping to use the visit of this repulsive apparatchik to secure an invitation for an official trip to Beijing.

No doubt Cleverly would enjoy the lavish state banquets and visits to historical sites. But to countenance a visit of this nature to China is a monstrous betrayal of Lee, Lai and hundreds of thousands like them whom I saw marching with such courage in those largely peaceful protests to protect the sort of freedoms we take for granted here.

The Government is kowtowing to a sinister dictatorship which still covers up the origins of a coronavirus that killed millions, openly threatens to invade a democracy on its doorstep in Taiwan and carries out genocidal atrocities against Muslim minorities in western China.

But it is even worse, given the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (backed by Beijing) and the sharpening global tension between democracies and autocracies (led by China).

Despite Britain’s early and strong support for Ukraine, our dance with China’s bullying dictatorship will provoke nerves in Kyiv, amid growing concerns there that the Western alliance could melt away as the war grinds on.

One senior Chinese diplomat even claimed recently that former Soviet countries have no ‘effective status in international law’ — a remark that caused consternation from the Baltic states to Moldova.

We can only imagine King Charles’s private views on letting the thug Han Zheng attend his Coronation, especially given the King’s firm support for Ukraine’s fight — although he clearly accepts his duty to follow government advice on such matters.

James Cleverly, angling for an invitation to become the first Foreign Secretary in five years to visit China, says blithely that the UK cannot influence which representative a country chooses to send to the Coronation. But surely we still have the right to decide who can arrive here to attend it?

The Foreign Secretary also trots out the trite nonsense, parroted by ‘realist’ politicians and mandarins, that ‘talking to China is not about comfortable chit-chat over tea and biscuits’. Rather, he claims, they exchange ‘tough’ words.

A minister once told me how this actually works in diplomatic discussions. At a pre-agreed point, the British delegation reads out a short statement while the Chinese ignore them by looking down at their papers.

In his speech last week, Cleverly offered no serious analysis of China’s alarming efforts to reshape the global order, instead calling for a collaborative approach that took a much softer line than the Biden administration.

In the U.S., Democrats and Republicans share concern about the seriousness of the threat from China, a rare point of agreement between them.

Britain initially responded well to the draconian national security law that snuffed out the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, by launching a visa scheme to assist thousands of people fleeing the repression.

Later, Rishi Sunak posed as a hawk in his Tory leadership campaign, saying at one point that ‘for too long, politicians in Britain and across the West have rolled out the red carpet and turned a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions’. He promised that ‘I will change this on day one as Prime Minister’.

Yet Sunak now seems to be trying to find an elusive path between open friendship and outright hostility, while using his Foreign Secretary to cuddle up to China, despite the regime’s record of broken promises, brutal repression and lethal cover-ups.

Bear in mind that China has sanctioned senior UK politicians — including some current government ministers — who spoke out against the regime. Beijing has also threatened Uighur refugees in Britain, monitored young Chinese studying here, and is running secret police stations on our soil that are reportedly used to harass and even deport dissidents.

Sunak at least accepts that China presents ‘the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security’ and that this challenge ‘grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism’ under hardliner Xi Jinping.

Unfortunately, his Government’s prescription of ‘robust pragmatism’ — the clunky name given to this less-combative approach to China, in a credulous attempt to win more trade — comes across as meek capitulation.

Britain looks weak in welcoming to the Coronation the man who symbolises China’s disdain for democracy, then trying desperately to seduce him into offering an invitation for the Foreign Secretary’s planned jaunt.

As King Charles saw in 1997, the price of freedom is greater than a few state banquets.

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