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Sunak under increasing pressure to release China policy

Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the government to clarify its China policy and ramp up sanctions against human rights abusers.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has faced new pressure on Friday to publish an unclassified version of the government’s China Strategy.

Alicia Kearns MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), said a lack of guidance is leaving experts “stumbling in the dark.”

In its response to the report, published by the FAC on Friday, the government rejected the request, saying it had “clearly set out its approach to China” in the Integrated Review Refresh document, which is “protecting our national security, aligning with our allies and partners and engaging with China where it is in UK interests to do so.”

“As such, the government does not intend to publish an additional China Strategy, and we have not committed to do so,” the response says. “We will continue to maintain as much transparency as possible and keep Parliament informed of our approach toward China, while recognising it is not in UK interests to make every element of the strategy public.”

Commenting on the government’s response, Ms. Kearns said the government’s refusal to publish an unclassified China Strategy “leaves UK businesses, academia, civil society, and even the civil service in a state of uncertainty on how to respond to threats from the Chinese Communist Party [CCP].”

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Over the past two and a half years, the FAC has “heard repeatedly from experts that the lack of guidance from government has left them stumbling in the dark,” the committee chair said.

Ms. Kearns criticized successive governments’ naivety about the consequences of closer ties with the Chinese regime, when in areas such as technologies and critical national infrastructure, and said it’s “now evident that business with China comes with strings attached, even if they are not immediately apparent.”

She also said the committee is asking not for sensitive documents or intelligence to be made public, but clarity for businesses and public-sector organizations on the where the lines are drawn.

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the government was examining its rules following a report that highlighted research collaborations between a top British university and Chinese institutions with military links.

A number of China-funded research labs in British universities have been closed in recent years as high-risk researches are increasingly subject to export control.

However, experimental or theoretical works not directed toward a specific practical aim or goal are exempt from the rule, leaving room for collaborations on new technologies that can potentially be used for military purposes.

‘Completely Insufficient’ Sanctions

Ms. Kearns also criticized the government for not targeting Chinese human rights abusers with sanctions.

In its report published in August 2023, the FAC said it was “unacceptable that trade should be prioritised over human rights to the extent that states that regularly violate human rights can continue to do so unsanctioned and our consumers, wittingly or unwittingly, participate indirectly by buying products made in inhumane conditions.”

The report went on to highlight Uyghur forced labor products, saying the government lacked resolve to stop them from flooding the United Kingdom.

The government said it “strongly disagrees” with the claims, pointing to its sanctioning of four Chinese officials and one entity for involvement in serious human rights violations in Xinjiang, alongside international partners.

However, Ms. Kearns said it’s “completely insufficient.”

“Some individuals, such as John Lee Ka-chiu, the chief executive of Hong Kong, have been allowed to operate unrestrained, despite only this week presiding over the implementation of an unconstitutional National Security Law which violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and which has been used to prosecute a British citizen, Jimmy Lai,” she said.

“CCP officials who brutalized Hong Kongers protesting on the streets of Manchester were allowed to leave Britain with no consequences, and Uyghur blood labor products continue to flood our markets whilst the [United States] and the [European Union] take action.”

In July 2022, former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the United Kingdom had made 102 sanctions during the first year after it introduced the Magnitsky-style Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations, but only six in the second year. (The sanctions program is named after Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.)

Sir Smith also said the United Kingdom had failed to keep pace with its allies, particularly the United States, in sanctioning perpetrators.

At the time, 14 Chinese individuals and organizations was sanctioned by the United States under its Magnitsky program. Nine of them were not, and are still not, on the United Kingdom’s sanctions list, including Chen Quanguo, former Xinjiang CCP secretary, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, and other senior officials in the bureau.

Earlier this week, the government came under fire again after an unconfirmed report said internal Cabinet documents said the government would pausing any consideration of sanctions against Chinese firms “indefinitely.”

When questioned about the report in Parliament, Andrew Mitchell, minister of state in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), told MPs that ministers do not discuss its approach to sanctions but are “keeping all such matters under regular review.”

While speaking on the House of Lords, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said the report was “incorrect,” adding, “The FCDO has never ruled out sanctions designations on any individual or entity.”

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