Well past time to hold China to account

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Karl Marx

I am going to begin this by stating my objection to China being referred to as “communist”. When Marx and Engels first wrote ‘The Communist Manifesto‘ (1848) they viewed communism as a political and economic ideology that aimed to replace private property and a profit based economy. They would be replaced with public ownership and communal control of at least the major means of production, and of the natural resources available to a society (Richard Dagger Professor of Political Science). China is in fact a “totalitarian” state which runs on state capitalism. Totalitarianism is centralised control by an autocratic authority and the political concept is that the citizens should be completely subject to an absolute state authority (Merriam Webster). In my opinion this is a very accurate description of the sort of state that China actually is and should be referred to as such.

As usual this piece of writing is my opinion and should be treated as such. I will insert links where possible to give readers the opportunity to do more reading. I am going to begin by writing about what happened on June 4th and 5th 1989 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The death on 15th April 1989 of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang was the spark for the protests that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Hu had worked to introduce democratic reform in China and pro-democracy protestors, who were mainly students, mourned him by marching and calling for a more open and democratic government. In the 1980s China was already going through changes as some private companies and foreign investment were allowed in. By doing this the then leader Deng Xiaoping hoped that the economy would be boosted and that living standards would be raised. Unfortunately this move also brought corruption as well as the hope for more political openness. The ruling CPC (Communist Party of China) was divided between those wanting more change and those wanting to preserve strict state control. Student led protests began in the mid 1980s and included those who had lived abroad and been exposed to higher standards of living and new ideas.

In the weeks following the death of Hu Yaobang protestors gathered at Tiananmen Square and it was estimated that up to a million people had gathered when numbers were at their largest. The protests were proving to be an embarrassment to the Chinese government, especially with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev due to visit China, which would plunge China into the global media spotlight. The military were called in after the ruling CPC declared martial law in Beijing on May 20th in an attempt to restore order and to clear the streets before the visit of Gorbachev. The Tiananmen Square massacre, referred to as “the 4th June incident” in China, is remembered as being one of the bloodiest events in modern history. At 1am on June 4 Chinese police and troops stormed Tiananmen Square firing live rounds into the crowd. Members of the 27th Group Army opened fire on the crowd just five minutes after they were told they had one hour to leave the Square. Snipers shot at protestors from rooftops and troops on the ground bayoneted any wounded. Armoured personnel carriers then rolled in running over protestors who had linked arms to form human chains. Reporters and Western diplomats who witnessed the events estimated that hundreds to thousands of protestors were killed in the Tiananmen Square Massacre and as many as 10,000 were arrested.

Historically, China has proved to be covetous about occupying foreign lands.” The People’s Republic of China maintains that Tibet is an intrinsic part of China whereas the Tibetan government-in-exile maintains that Tibet is an independent state under unlawful occupation. The Chinese regime began their invasion of Tibet in 1949 and reached complete occupation in 1959. From then until November 2017 1.2 million people (20 per cent of Tibet’s population) have died as a result of China’s invasion and occupation. over 99 per cent of Tibet’s six thousand religious monasteries, temples and shrines, have been destroyed or looted resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of Buddhist scriptures. Occupying Tibet gave China access to rich, natural resources and allowed it to militarise the strategically important border with India. Tibetans rebelled against the PRC in Lhasa on March 10 1959 and the Dalai Lama ( a teenage boy) left Lhasa on March 17 1959 and went into exile in India on March 31 along with about 80 followers. Rebels then launched an attack on Chinese officials and troops on March 19 1959 and the Chinese launched their response the following day. Chinese troops captured Lhasa on 25 March 1959 killing about 2,000 Tibetan rebels in the process. On March 28 the Dalai Lama led government was dissolved and the Panchen Lama assumed control of the Tibetan government on April 5 1959. Between March 10 and March 31 1959 it is estimated that about 87,000 Tibetans died and 100,000 fled to India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The PRC closed all monasteries and imposed Chinese law and customs in Tibet. The General Assembly of the United Nations condemned China’s disrespect for the human rights of Tibetans on October 21 1959. China imposed economic reforms in Tibet between 1960 – 62 which resulted in famines and the death of about 340,000 Tibetans. Tibet is still classed as an independent state but it is under illegal occupation. This means that Beijing’s transfer of Chinese citizens into Tibet is a violation of the fourth Geneva convention of 1949, which prohibits the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory. The issue of human rights along with the right to self-determination and the right of the Tibetan people to keep their own identity and autonomy are, of course, matters for legitimate international concern regardless of how Tibet’s legal status is regarded.

It is not only Tibet that China has had disputes with over territory, on land and at sea. It also has had disputes with Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, North Korea, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia Myanmar and India. In June 2020 there were protests by ethnic Mongolians as China tried to replace the Mongolian language with Chinese Mandarin in some of the school subjects. Mongolians were afraid that their language would be relegated to a foreign language as part of government plans to assimilate ethnic minorities into Chinese Han culture. China’s reason for the change to the bilingual education system was to ensure that the curriculum and textbooks were of “high standard”.

“It doesn’t matter where I am, or what passport I hold. [Chinese authorities] will terrorize me anywhere, and I have no way to fight that.“(Uyghur Muslim with European citizenship, Washington, September 2019). The atrocities administered to Uyghurs have been described as “the most pressing human rights crisis of our time” by Irwin Cotler, a renowned legal expert and civil liberties champion. A parliamentary committee in Canada made a landmark decision when they labelled the atrocities being inflicted upon the Uyghurs as “genocide” and government ministers and experts from around the world have called for joint action against the CPC. In November 2020 the Halifax International Security Forum held its annual summit and warned the world that “Modern-day China has emerged as the most powerful authoritarian state in history and the major challenger to the liberal world.” During the summit top national security, foreign policy officials and activists called for there to be a joint initiative to regenerate international institutes and pursue new, more adaptable methods do governments can work together to confront China’s “economic and technological warfare and aggressive military build up”,

In the HRW (Human Rights Watch) World Report 2020 it is stated that “China’s government sees human rights as an existential threat. Its reaction could pose an existential threat to the rights of people worldwide“. The CPC is worried that allowing political freedom would threaten its hold on power. To counter this it has developed a high-tech surveillance state and a state-of-the-art internet censorship system so as to monitor and suppress any public criticism. Abroad it uses its ever growing economic power to silence critics, and continues to attack the global system for enforcing human rights in a manner that has not been seen since the system began to appear during the mid twentieth century. In October 2020 forty countries criticised China’s treatment of minority groups, especially the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and the citizens of Tibet. They also expressed grave concern over the impact that its new security laws in Hong Kong would have on human rights. The mainly Western statement said that its 39 signatories shared the concerns that had been expressed in a letter written by fifty independent United Nations human rights experts. The letter urged the international community to take appropriate measures to monitor China and to act together to ensure China’s government respected human rights. These experts expressed concern over allegations of excessive force against protesters, reports of retaliation against people who spoke out about the coronavirus outbreak, and Hong Kong’s then proposed new security law.

This leads to the most recent episode concerning China, human rights, attempts to silence critics and also lies and cover ups. On February 20 2020 Aylin Woodward wrote about 5 Chinese citizens who had disappeared, been arrested or been silenced after speaking out about the coronavirus (Covid-19). On 30 December 2019 Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang wrote a message to a group of medical school alumni warning them about an outbreak of a mysterious new illness and warned them to wear protective clothing to avoid infection. Three days later he was reprimanded and silenced by local police. He was forced to sign a letter in which he was accused of “making false comments” which had “severely disturbed the social order.” He returned to work at the hospital in Wuhan and caught the infection from a patient. Chinese law professor Xu Zhangrun posted a review criticising President Xi Jinping and the CPC for the way they had handled the coronavirus outbreak. He wrote “They all blithely stood by as the crucial window of opportunity to deal with the outbreak of the infection snapped shut in their faces,” which implied that the government’s censoring of information about the virus had impaired its ability to control the spread. This was posted online on February 10 2020 but was taken down immediately and Xu was placed under house arrest. He was also cut off from the internet and scrubbed from all social media sites. In addition to Li and Xu at least 3 citizen journalists have disappeared or were arrested after sharing information about the outbreak on social media.

During his time as a patient in Wuhan hospital Li Wenliang posted his story on social media site Weibo. It was a disturbing insight into the badly managed response by the local authorities in Wuhan during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak. Dr Li was working at Wuhan hospital when he became aware of 7 cases of a virus which looked like SARS. The cases were thought to have come from the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan and the patients were in quarantine at Wuhan hospital. When Dr Li was reprimanded by local police he was told that he was one of 8 people being investigated for “spreading rumours”. For the first few weeks of January 2020 local authorities in Wuhan were insisting that the virus could only be caught through contact with infected animals. Doctors were not issued with any guidance to protect themselves. Dr Li caught the virus from a woman he was treating for glaucoma just a week after being reprimanded after the police. On 10 January 2020 Dr Li developed a cough, the next day he developed a fever and 2 days later he was admitted to hospital. It was not until 10 days later, on 20 January 2020, that China declared the outbreak an emergency.

On February 13 2020 Professors Ruipeng Lei and Renzong Qiu of the Hastings Center stated that the reprimand and silencing of Dr Li by local police was an unlawful and unethical infringement on his right of expression and also impeded early control of the epidemic. During the weeks that Dr Li was ill in hospital, local authorities had apologised for the way he had been treated but by that time it was too late. Dr Li died on 7 February 2020. In May 2020 former lawyer turned citizen journalist Zhang Zhan was detained by by Chinese authorities. After spending 7 months in detention she was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment. She was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” which is a common charge used against activists in China. In June 2020, Sir Richard Dearlove ( a former head of MI6) cited a study by British and Norwegian researchers which he thought could “shift the debate” on the origins of the coronavirus. He stated that he believed that the coronavirus pandemic could have “started as an accident” after the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory. The researchers had claimed that they had found clues that suggested key elements had been “inserted” into the genetic sequence of the virus but their study did not seem to indicate that the inserts were man-made. The study was rejected by several journals and revisions were made to remove claims that accused China. At that time the consensus was still that the virus had originated in bats and had crossed species in a “wet market” in Wuhan and then made the jump to humans.

On October 17 2020 the Financial Times published the first part of a series they called “Coronavirus: could the world have been spared?” They sent reporters to Wuhan to investigate what happened in the first weeks of the epidemic. They spoke to medical professionals, government officials and members of the public in Wuhan and found that several of the people they approached were then threatened by police who said that the FT had gone to Wuhan with “malicious intent”. They also discovered that the police were still intimidating and threatening virus victims, their families and anybody who wanted to talk to them about the virus. The reporters from the FT felt that this behaviour raised doubts about the willingness of Xi Jinping’s administration to help with the impartial investigation into the pandemic that China had promised the world. This could also be inferred from the way China delayed the investigation by making WHO go through months of negotiation in order to gain entry into China, and then access to Wuhan and the people they needed to speak to. Robin Brant (BBC correspondent in Wuhan) was of the opinion that China had resisted the investigation because it saw the potential for further blame from foreigners and it already had its own official version of what happened. The WHO team finally arrived in China on 14 January 2021 and had to spend 14 days in quarantine before continuing on to Wuhan. Earlier in January the team had been denied entry into China because one of the team was turned back and another was stuck in transit. China claimed that it was all a misunderstanding and that discussions about arranging the investigation were still underway. The two week quarantine period ended on 28 January 2021 and the investigation is now underway although the team says that it will not be investigating the possibility that the virus originated in a lab and escaped.

On 9 February 2021 the WHO team who had gone to China to investigate the origins of China held a media briefing and spoke about what they had found. They stated that SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) may have originated from zoonotic transmission but the reservoir hosts had not been identified. Basically this means that they think the virus jumped from animals to humans but they do not know what animal yet. They did rule out bats and pangolins though so hopefully this may lead to an end to the slaughter of both species. They said that the virus did not originate in a Chinese laboratory. On 10 February 20121 Massimo Introvigne wrote that the reasons that WHO says that the virus could not have originated in a Chines laboratory is because China told them so. Introvigne also claims that Dr Peter Ben Embarak who headed the WHO team is by trade a food safety expert. The investigation was carried out by a joint WHO-China team and it was decided before the investigation began that laboratories would not be visited.

I lost my father on 5 April 2020 and my partner on 15 May 2020 and both of their deaths were the result of the coronavirus epidemic. In my opinion not only does the British government have to be held to account for the number of loved ones lost due to their shamefully abysmal handling of the epidemic, China also has to be held to account for their attempts to hide the outbreak by silencing people like Dr Li during the first weeks when the epidemic could have been brought under control. China lied about and hid important information which could have changed everything, and people like me, and so many others, would not have had to say goodbye to their family members during a 17 minute rushed funeral which had to be streamed for those who could not attend due to the limit on numbers allowed to attend. China should also be held to account for its continuing human rights violations and the atrocities visited upon Tibetans and Uyghurs. China continues to act with impunity and with scant regard for how they are viewed by the rest of the world. As I said at the beginning, apart from the facts I have used the rest is my opinion and should be treated as such. Next time you go out to buy something try and find something that has not been made in China… I wish you good luck with that.

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