Falun Gong is a constant reminder of Chinese oppression

The Chinese government has a long way to go in learning how to treat and respect humanity

A recent Saturday morning, a short, colourful and dignified procession set off from outside the Chinese embassy in Portland Place. It was composed of practitioners and supporters of the Falun Gong movement, a slightly bizarre quasi-religious organisation that believes in meditation and bits of various Eastern religions.

To me, as a mainstream Christian, it may be slightly odd but it is entirely harmless and believes in peace and goodwill and the general well-being of mankind. However, to the Communist Chinese regime it is a major threat to their very survival and needs to be ruthlessly put down in a manner worthy of Hitler’s approach to the "Jewish question".

Why? Because as with all totalitarian regimes the Chinese cannot tolerate any organisation they cannot control, hence their approach to the Roman Catholic Church over recent decades. However, Falun Gong does not have the Pope to defend it, and the wholesale persecution of Falun Gong has gone largely unreported in the West.

Members have suffered spells in labour camps, murder and a particularly brutal Chinese practise; the forced removal of organs for transplant. Falun Gong worshippers are not unique in this respect: Buddhist monks, Tibetan nationalists and political deviants of all kinds continue to suffer. Despite the rise of modern cities, China trails only Burma as the most repressive Asian regime.

Yet, in 2005 Her Majesty the Queen was forced to entertain President Hu Jintao to the full panoply of a State visit. Not since 1978 when President Ceausescu of Romania peed over the wallpaper of Buckingham Palace, has the leader of such a cruel and vicious regime been feted by the British establishment.

The Mayor of London is not alone in spending hundreds of thousands of pounds opening offices in China and encouraging tourists to come to London, but he seems oblivious to the fact that only the "well behaved" are allowed to leave China.

The City Corporation fawns over the People's Republic to the extent that last November I found myself walking the length of the Guildhall Library between the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Chinese ambassador as we were announced at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. The Communist functionary looked far better in white tie and tails than I did, and it rather reminded me of King George VI receiving Ribbentrop in the 1930s.

I once visited the Chinese Embassy to meet the ambassador who, at the time, was a rather pleasant chap who had been educated at Ealing technical college in the 1950s and complained that from his first floor office window he could constantly see the permanent demonstration on the pavement opposite.

“That,“ I told the Ambassador, “was the price of democracy.“ However from the sparsely furnished, heavily marbled and thick red carpet (a la Kremlin 1950s) in the embassy, his excellency could not see the irony.

Town Halls up and down the country are besieged by requests from Chinese towns for twinning arrangements and reciprocal visits, but as mayors serve the tea and cucumber sandwiches they do not realise that the polite man who calls himself “vice mayor” is usually the official responsible for sending dissidents off to the Chinese gulag.

The Chinese regime craves recognition, and, sadly, British politicians, businessmen and university vice chancellors are prepared to afford that recognition in exchange for contracts that are helping the Chinese to destroy their environment, persecute their people and stifle democracy.

I am in no doubt that the evil and corrupt regime that currently represses so many of our fellow human beings will fall. Then, perhaps, its many sycophantic supporters in the UK will hang their heads in shame as low as they do now in respect to these Communist butchers.

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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Boris Johnson isn't risking his political life over Heathrow

The anti-Heathrow campaigner was never a committed environmentalist. 

A government announcement on expanding London’s airports is expected today, and while opposition forces have been rallying against the expected outcome - a third runway at Heathrow - the decision could also be a divisive one for the ruling Conservative party. A long consultation period will allow these divisions to fester. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 Conservative MPs are against expansion at the Heathrow site. The Prime Minister’s own constituents are threatening legal action, and the former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, has promised to step down as MP for Richmond rather than let the airport develop.

But what of Boris Johnson? The politician long synonymous with Heathrow opposition - including a threat to lie down “in front of those bulldozers” - is expected to call the decision a mistake. But for a man unafraid to dangle from a zipwire, he has become unusually reticent on the subject.

The reticence has partly been imposed upon him. In a letter to her cabinet ministers, Theresa May has granted them freedom from the usual rules of collective responsibility (under which cabinet ministers are required to support government positions). But she has also requested that they refrain from speaking out in the Commons, from “actively” campaigning against her position, and from calling “into question the decision making process itself”.  

Johnson is not about to start cheering for Heathrow. But unlike Goldsmith, he is no committed environmentalist - and he's certainly a committed politician.  

Boris’s objections to the expansion at Heathrow have all too often only extended as far as the lives of his London constituents. These local impacts are not to be belittled – in his role of mayor of London, he rightly pointed to the extreme health risks of increased noise and air pollution. And his charisma and profile have also boosted community campaigns around these issues. 

But when it comes to reducing emissions, Johnson is complacent. He may have come a long way since a 2013 Telegraph article in which he questioned whether global warming was real. Yet his plan to build an alternative “hub” airport in the Thames Estuary would have left the question of cutting UK aviation emissions worryingly un-resolved. This lack of curiosity is alarming considering his current job as foreign secretary. 

And there are reasons to be concerned. According to Cait Hewitt at the Aviation Environment Federation, the UK fails to meet its targets for CO2 reduction. And the recent UN deal on aviation emission mitigation doesn’t even meet the commitments of the UK’s own Climate Change Act, let alone the more stringent demands of the Paris Agreement. “Deciding that we’re going to do something that we know is going to make a problem worse, before we’ve got an answer, is the wrong move”, said Hewitt.

There is a local environmental argument too. Donnachadh McCarthy, a spokesperson from the activist group “Rising Up”, says the pollution could affect Londoners' health: "With 70 per cent of flights taken just by 15 per cent of the UK's population... this is just not acceptable in a civilised democracy.”

The way Johnson tells it, his reason for staying in government is a pragmatic one. “I think I'd be better off staying in parliament to fight the case, frankly," he told LBC Radio in 2015. And he's right that, whatever the government’s position, the new “national policy statement” to authorise the project will likely face a year-long public consultation before a parliamentary vote in late 2017 or early 2018. Even then the application will still face a lengthy planning policy stage and possible judicial review. 

But if the foreign secretary does fight this quietly, in the back rooms of power, it is not just a loss to his constituents. It means the wider inconsistencies of his position can be brushed aside - rather than exposed and explored, and safely brought down to ground. 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.