Why the persecution of the Uighurs should shape the UK’s China policy

Crimes against humanity are a far greater and more urgent crisis than whether Huawei and TikTok are cybersecurity threats. 

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What’s the endgame of our new China policy? The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, will today update MPs on the latest developments and is expected to announce that the UK will exit, at least partially, from its extradition agreement with Hong Kong. 

Parliament’s China hawks, feeling flush with victory over the government's U-turn on Huawei, want ministers to go further, warning that TikTok is as big a threat to the UK’s cybersecurity as Huawei, while the latest harrowing footage from Xinjiang details the continuing atrocities being inflicted on the country's Uighur minority. 

It's the treatment of the Uighurs that should inform our China policy most of all. Crimes against humanity are being committed and that is a far greater and more urgent crisis than whether Huawei and TikTok are cybersecurity threats. That should surely be the focus of the government’s changing approach to China. 

The grim reality is that ripping out some telecommunications infrastructure here and a generous citizenship offer to Hong Kong there, however welcome, are not going to halt the atrocities in Xinjiang or result in the rolling back of Hong Kong’s new security law. 

So what’s next? If we're serious about our change of approach on China, then that has implications for our manufacturing policy, our international development policy, our trade policy and our defence policy. It should surely mean treating China’s Uighurs as what they are – refugees facing serious persecution in need of sanctuary. But it’s difficult to see how, when we look at government policy across the piece, there has been a significant, whole-Whitehall approach.

Thus far, the government’s change of heart on China seems to be largely designed to avoid parliamentary defeats here at home: to deprive Westminster’s China hawks of a domestic political triumph, rather than depriving them of any political purpose. I wrote after Raab’s big citizenship announcement that his real test was making sure a British foreign secretary wasn't having to make a similar visa offer to Taiwan in 15 years – and it’s that challenge on which he needs to start showing signs of progress this afternoon.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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