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We face a values war in which the peoples of China are our friends, but Xi Jinping’s regime is a self-declared foe|Benedict Rogers

Last week I spoke on a panel in a webinar titled “China: Friend or Foe?” I gave a very clear answer: for me personally, China as a country, a great and ancient civilization, full of remarkable, dynamic peoples and cultures, is a friend. I have spent all my adult life — almost three decades — in and around China, and I love it deeply. But as for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime, through its own rhetoric and behaviour it has already declared itself a foe to anyone who believes in democracy, human rights, freedom and the international rules-based order. Whether or not we are facing a new ‘Cold War’ is debatable, but what cannot be in doubt is that we’re in a ‘Values War’. As the last Governor of Hong Kong Lord Patten so eloquently and passionately told the House of Lords International Relations Committee two days ago, “of course there’s a fight over values”.

You only need to read Xi Jinping’s first speech to the Politburo in January 2013 to know this. He declared: “Most importantly, we must concentrate our efforts on … building a socialism that is superior to capitalism, and laying the foundation for a future when we will win the initiative and have the dominant position.”

Or look at the creatively titled “Document №9” issued in April 2013, which sets out the seven “don’t speaks”, including constitutional democracy (meaning a separation of powers, a multi-party system, national elections and an independent judiciary), the concept of ‘universal’ human rights, civil society and an independent media. Or “Document №30”, published the following year, which bans the teaching of liberal ideals in universities.

Or examine the CCP’s behaviour. This is a regime increasingly regarded by legal experts, scholars, policy-makers and legislators in much of the world as perpetrating the 21st century’s latest genocide. The incarceration of at least a million Uyghurs in concentration camps, widespread slave labour, sexual violence, torture, forced organ harvesting and religious persecution have all been well-documented. Xi Jinping’s regime is committing some of the most egregious atrocity crimes imaginable under international law. The China Tribunal investigating forced organ harvesting two years ago, chaired by British barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, concluded that the regime in Beijing is “a criminal state”.

Over recent years the CCP has unleashed the most severe assault on religious freedom since the Cultural Revolution — not only against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and Tibetan Buddhists, but against Christians too. Thousands of crosses and churches have been destroyed, State-controlled churches are forced to display portraits of Xi and CCP propaganda banners alongside — or sometimes in place of — religious symbols, under-18s are banned from going to places of worship and the regime talks about rewriting the Bible to make it acceptable to CCP “characteristics”.

Just in this past week we have seen two specific examples of the regime’s crackdown on religion. A week ago today, a 63-year-old Catholic bishop, Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang Diocese, was arrested and is being detained in a hotel room where he is subjected to “political sessions”. The previous day at least seven of his priests and several seminarians were also arrested. Two days later, Protestant pastor Yang Hua of Living Stone Church in Guizhou province was prevented from flying to Qingdao to visit Christian friends, and was brutally assaulted by a government official in a police station.

The dramatic, rapid and brazen dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy in total breach of an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, is a direct assault on the international rules-based order. And not content with a draconian National Security Law that effectively criminalises all protest, international advocacy and basic freedoms in Hong Kong, a change to the electoral system that has forced the pro-democracy camp out of the legislature, and the arrest and imprisonment of almost all of Hong Kong’s democrats, now this week we learn that the CCP may be planning to create two new departments for Hong Kong, focused on national security and propaganda, to tighten its vice-like grip on the city still further.

And it’s not just the regime’s conduct at home. It increasingly threatens the national security of western democracies, bullies, harasses and attempts to intimidate its overseas critics into silence, steals intellectual property, poses enormous cyber-security challenges, and has inflicted upon the world, through its irresponsible negligence, mendacity and deceit, a pandemic that has wrought over 3.4 million deaths and destroyed millions more livelihoods. As the evidence grows of the likelihood that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, the continuous cover-up by the regime is clear.

Add to all this the increasingly belligerent and bellicose behaviour of the CCP’s so-called “wolf-warrior” diplomats, who essentially are today’s ‘Red Guards’. Under Xi Jinping, China is engaged in a new ‘Cultural Revolution’, armed with new technologies and new tactics but with some similarities with the past.

I recently finished re-reading Anthony Grey’s remarkable memoir Hostage in Peking, an account of the Reuters journalist’s two-year ordeal under house arrest at the end of the 1960s. I was struck both by the general description of the Red Guards, whom today’s “wolf-warrior” diplomats seem to emulate, and by the specific example of one Chinese diplomat at that time: Yao Teng-shan, deputy ambassador in Indonesia who was hailed as a “red diplomatic fighter”. The original wolf-warrior.

Of course hostage-taking — along with forced televised confessions — is a Cultural Revolution tactic that Xi has revived. The world must not forget the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, held captive in China since December 2018 in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Any regime that engages in hostage-taking cannot be regarded as a friend.

The same is true of how Xi’s regime treats foreign journalists today. The BBC’s correspondent John Sudworth fled China for Taiwan in March, citing threats and intimidation that made it increasingly difficult to do his job in the mainland. Last year the regime expelled the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times correspondents, and the last two remaining reporters for Australian media left the country.

Increasingly the rest of the world is waking up to the dangers of the CCP. The European Parliament’s decision to freeze the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement is one sign of this, as is the letter this week signed by 26 Members of the European Parliament from 9 European Union member states to the EU Commission calling for an urgent EU lifeboat scheme for Hong Kongers who need to leave the city.

The MEPs write that “with nearly every prominent pro-democracy voice in Hong Kong in jail, awaiting trial, or overseas in exile, it is clear that there is an increased need for the European Union to do more to assist and stand with the people of Hong Kong.” They argue that “it cannot be right that we are leaving it to others to offer material support for Hong Kongers who are in need of a lifeline out of the city.” The “continued crackdown” in Hong Kong, they argue, “deserves a coordinated response … that goes beyond simple statements”. They are exactly right.

But while many understandably want and need a lifeline out of the city, those who choose to stay — and face jail — must never be forgotten. That’s why Hong Kong Watch has initiated a campaign for Hong Kong’s political prisoners. And as we keep the spotlight on them, demanding their release and appealing against mistreatment, we must hear and amplify their voices when we can.

This week former legislator and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan articulated his vision in an incredibly moving court statement which spoke of his “unrequited love, the love for my country with such a heavy heart”. If there is a real test of patriotism — as distinct from the fake test the regime has imposed on Hong Kong public servants, which amounts to a test of loyalty to the CCP, not the country — it is people like Mr Lee who are the real patriots. And it is his message which sums up the answer to the question I faced last week: “China: Friend or Foe?”.

Mr Lee describes how in 1975, at university, he was inspired by a movement which advocated “Knowing China and Caring for the Society”. This prompted him to ask “Where should China go?”, a question which has dogged him for 40 years. He expresses his “firm belief” that “democratic reform is the answer”.

In his court statement, Mr Lee courageously recalled being in Beijing on the night of the 4 June 1989 massacre. “All night long I could hear gunshots from my hotel. I saw tanks entering Tiananmen Square … and three-wheeled tricycles passing by my hotel on Chang’An Avenue transporting corpses and injured people non-stop,” he said. The next day he was arrested and held in custody for three days — “the most fearful days of my life.”

In the “Values War”, we face a choice. Do we stand with the agents of lies, brutality, fear and repression, complicit — either actively or through our silence — with them, emboldening them, helping them continue to gain in strength? Or do we stand with people like Mr Lee, who tells us clearly: “I have chosen to live in the truth … By my own definition, patriotism is loving my people. The function of the national institution is to protect the freedom and dignity of its people, but not to control the minds and behaviour of them.”

A people that yearn for freedom, do not want to live in fear, seek truth and desire basic human dignity are our friends. A regime that threatens freedom — for its own people and for others — and lives by fear and lies is our foe. I am a friend of China and its peoples — the CCP is my foe.

This Sunday the Global Week of Prayer for China concludes, but that does not mean our prayers for China stop. In Christianity, we are told to pray for the persecuted and for our enemies. Let’s continue to pray for our friends in China and our foes in the criminal CCP regime.

(Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, Senior Analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a member of the advisory group of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign, an advisor to the Global Week of Prayer for China and a founding trustee of Hong Kong ARC. )

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