CW: discussion of torture, genocide.
On his final day in the job as Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo announced the findings of the US State Department’s ‘Determination on Atrocities in Xinjiang’. The key lines of Pompeo’s accompanying press release read thus:
‘I have determined that the PRC [People’s Republic of China], under the direction and control of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], has committed genocide against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.’
The Xinjiang report came as the second punch in a diplomatic one-two, the first of which sailed in on the 9th of January when Pompeo lifted the ‘self-imposed restrictions’ on contact between US and Taiwanese officials, to a predictably incandescent Chinese response. These actions, conducted in the final weeks of the Trump era, underscored that administration’s commitment to a tough stance against the most powerful of tyrannical regimes: The CCP.
Notably, in a rare display of bi-partisan agreement, Biden’s nomination for Pompeo’s role, former Obama Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, has said that he agrees with Pompeo’s conclusions on the Xinxiang atrocities.
And atrocities they are. Over a million people are now thought to be interned in hundreds of camps across the western Chinese province. The outstanding reporting of journalists like the BBC’s John Sudworth has revealed how these institutions, in which people are held without trial, sometimes for years, are designed to strip ethnic minorities of their own heritage and replace it with party approved Han culture. The relatives of those imprisoned are given no idea of when their family members will return. Perhaps most shockingly, systematic cultural annihilation is coupled with the forced sterilisation of ethnic minority women (a programme which the Chinese embassy in the US has been brazen enough to promote on its twitter account).
The US’s response has been clear and decisive. 2020 saw Trump sign the ‘Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act’, which increased the scope for sanctions against those Chinese officials suspected of involvement in the genocide. In fact, the tenure of the Trump presidency witnessed an increasingly aggressive CCP regime attempt to assert its agenda on a global scale. From international trade, to Hong Kong and the South China Sea, the no-nonsense US response has been just what the doctor ordered.
2018 saw Trump confront the theft of intellectual property and the use of ‘forced technology transfer’ (where foreign companies are only allowed access to Chinese markets on the condition that they divulge commercial secrets) by the Chinese government, believed to cost the US between $225 billion and $600 billion annually. The hundreds of billions of dollars of trade tariffs employed by Trump in retaliation, while not beneficial to the US economy, showed here an American commitment to just trade practices, a principle the CCP has long ignored.
In reply to the CCP’s campaign to strangle democracy in Hong Kong (the latest development of which saw 53 pro-democracy activists arrested in morning raids earlier this month), the US passed the ‘Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act’ (2019), opening sanctions against those government officials involved in the crackdown. In the South China Sea, where China continues to illegally construct military bases on reefs in international waters, the US has ramped up its Freedom of Navigation Patrols (FONOPs), conducting a record number in 2019, and so denying the CCP de facto ownership of a sea lane which sees 40% of the world’s trade travel through it each year.
And then there’s the CCP’s delayed reaction to COVID. Having discovered a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, instead of alerting the international community, the CCP embarked on a cover-up operation. To this day official government outlets continue to blame anyone but themselves for the international catastrophe. Ultimately, the Chinese government played a strategic blinder in 2020, achieving stunning economic and propaganda coups. China was the only major economy to report economic growth for last year, a 2.3% expansion, and while much of the rest of the world world remains locked away, the government has invited foreign journalists to gawk at busy streets and bustling markets. In one fell swoop, whether intentional or not, the CCP has stolen an economic march on its rivals, and exported the martial law it holds so dear to the rest of the world. Trump cannot be creddited for his response here, which consisted purely of diversionary and reckless racism, rhetoric that has no place in the white house or anywhere else. However, this further example of the CCP’s politiking again makes it essential that Biden continue the work of his predecessor in holding this dangerous regime to account.
By taking a firm line, the Trump administration helped expose the true nature of the Chinese government: An authoritarian-capitalist organisation which ruthlessly pursues political dissidents and exterminates ethnic minorities; complete with a president, Xi Jinping, who has demolished executive term limits and is in the foothills of what I’m sure he intends to be a multi-decade reign.
Trump’s legacy on China is to have ended all the wretched cosying up to the CCP that seemed to be creeping in before he became President. All the talk of a ‘golden era’ in Sino-British relations has been ditched, thank goodness. No more will we be subjected to nauseating images of the British PM sipping beer in his local with Xi Jinping (as David Cameron did in 2015). Now we know where we stand.
The West has a responsibility, not least to the Chinese people themselves, who have been subjected to this regime for so long, to uphold rights like individual liberty, protection from torture, a right to privacy and freedom of religion. The CCP have different values, and if the last five years have shown us anything, it should be that they are attempting to impose them on the world. We must affirm our values in response. This requires the unity of all democratic nations, and crucially, the resolve of the leader of the free world. Trump held the line. Over to you Joe.
Image credit: Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office