In China, we are seeing forced televised confessions, a mass surveillance state, the killing of Falun Gong practitioners for their organs, and what many are calling a genocide of the Uyghur people. Eighty-three global brands, including major U.S. companies, are tied to Uyghur forced labor in China.
Over in Hong Kong, 53 pro-democracy activists, lawmakers, and lawyers were arrested on Jan. 6 under the draconian national security law.
Despite all this, the EU recently announced a major trade deal with China.
American Thought Leaders interviews human rights activist and writer Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, to discuss the commission’s new report: “The Darkness Deepens.”
This is American Thought Leaders ????????, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Benedict Rogers, it’s so great to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Benedict Rogers: Thank you. It’s a great privilege to be with you again.
Mr. Jekielek: Ben, you’ve put out this incredible report, “The Darkness Deepens.” Frankly, it’s one of the most comprehensive reports on human rights in China that I’ve come across, and this is a follow up from your report four years ago that the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission put out, “The Darkest Moment.” Incredible work—for starters, I have to say that. Why don’t you tell me briefly, what were the key most important findings in your mind?
Mr. Rogers: I think the key findings are that in the last four years since that previous inquiry and report, firstly, the situation across the board has deteriorated dramatically further, and I almost didn’t think that was possible because as you’ve just said, the report four years ago was called, “The Darkest Moment.”
In other words, the situation was pretty terrible then. But across the board, things have worsened significantly. We’ve seen the dismantling of democracy and freedoms in Hong Kong; we see what people are increasingly recognizing as a genocide of the Uyghurs.
Those two issues have had quite a lot of attention and deservedly so, but what we found is that situation for Christians, for Falun Gong practitioners, for the situation in Tibet, for human rights defenders, bloggers, lawyers, across the board, the situation has worsened significantly. That’s the main finding.
But also, I think the Chinese Communist Party regime is finding new and increasingly brutal forms of repression. The growth of surveillance technology is one example. The use of forced labor, which we call modern day slavery, probably was going on before but it’s certainly much more extensive now. And the use of forced televised confessions and the increasing number of arrests of foreign nationals so it shows that no one is safe from the long arm of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]. It’s not just nationals of the PRC [People’s Republic of China] but foreign nationals that have been arrested and jailed, disappeared, forced to confess on national television.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems to me like the Chinese Communist Party is taking advantage of this chaotic situation around the U.S. election to do some bad stuff, so to speak. One of these things is the mass arrests of pro-democracy politicians on January 6. Actually, four guests from this show were among those that were arrested that day. Why don’t you tell me what you think about this, what the realities are, and how things have come since January 6?
Mr. Rogers: The mass arrests of 53 pro-democracy activists were the single largest swoop by the Hong Kong police of activists in Hong Kong in recent memory. Obviously, there have been quite a number of other arrests in previous months, but there’s been nowhere near as large a number in one morning.
Essentially, what they’re charged with is nothing more than the “crime” of having dared to carry out a democratic exercise. They either were candidates or organizers or pollsters in a primary election, something that here in the United States is the absolute norm. But a primary election to choose the candidates for the pro-democracy camp in what should have been the elections to the legislature in Hong Kong [was] of course subsequently postponed using the excuse of the pandemic. But now these individuals have been arrested, charged with subversion under the national security law, for having carried out that exercise last summer to choose their candidates.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to just briefly recap. This national security law seems to give the Chinese Communist Party—actually, the Hong Kong government, with the Chinese Communist Party kind of standing behind it—virtually carte blanche to do whatever it wants.
Mr. Rogers: Absolutely. It is probably the most draconian and vaguely worded and extensive, repressive law that that I’ve really ever seen. Some of the concepts that it criminalizes, things like collusion with foreign political forces, basically means it’s now a crime for a person in Hong Kong to talk to a foreign politician, foreign media, someone like me, a foreign activist. [In the law] acts of subversion are interpreted as, for example, carrying out a primary election to choose candidates, and really any form of criticism of the regime in Beijing. Crucially, this law also has an extra-territorial clause in it, which, in principle, essentially says that, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Hong-Konger or not, and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Anyone, anywhere in the world can breach the national security law. Now, obviously, enforcing that for foreigners outside Hong Kong is probably not very practical, at least in the Western world. But it does make Hong-Kongers who are in other parts of the world much more vulnerable if they want to go back to Hong Kong.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s look at the difference from four years ago. How has Hong Kong changed, bottom line?
Mr. Rogers: Bottom line is it’s changed massively. Four years ago, freedom was under pressure. There were signs of erosion and worrying signs of erosion. Today, there is no freedom in Hong Kong.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s jump to the second issue that we discussed. You mentioned this modern day slavery, forced labor. I recently produced a film, a Holocaust documentary, which involved us going to Europe, and one of the things I discovered which I hadn’t realized, actually, entirely, was how important the slave labor of the Jewish people was to the Nazi war machine, so to speak, to the functioning of the Nazi regime. It’s just something that seems to be glossed over because of the horrors of the Holocaust. But I saw that this is something that’s new in your report. You didn’t have a section on modern day slavery in the previous report. Why is this figuring in so prominently now?
Mr. Rogers: I think that a lot more evidence has come to light, and I think the use of slave labor has been much more extensive over the last few years. Crucially, it’s featuring a very significant role in the supply chains of at least 83 or more international brands, companies that consumers will all be familiar with throughout the Western world.
You are right to make the connection with the Holocaust because what’s very significant about this situation is that among religious communities speaking out on the Uyghur situation, it’s actually been the Jewish community that has been taking a lead. The former chief rabbi in my country, the United Kingdom, the current chief rabbi, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish newspaper, and other Jewish groups have really been courageous in making the comparison with the Holocaust, which is a very rare and sensitive thing for the Jewish community to do but they’ve been doing it.
Mr. Jekielek: Why don’t you tell me briefly why that is, and of course, we know some of this but why is that apt in your mind?
Mr. Rogers: I think it’s very apt because many of the hallmarks of the Holocaust are there. Not only the slave labor but evidence of the campaign of forced sterilization, scenes of people with their heads shaved [and] being loaded onto trains, and of course, the extensive concentration camps in the Xinjiang region where it’s said that at least a million, perhaps as many as 3 million, are incarcerated or severely tortured, subjected to sexual violence, and other abuses.
So the parallels really are there with things that we haven’t seen on that scale for a very long time. Of course, we’ve seen, sadly, other genocides over the years and plenty of other mass atrocities in different parts of the world, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite as extensive as this for a long time.
Mr. Jekielek: A Canadian parliamentary committee came up with a genocide designation for what is happening there in Xinjiang to the Uyghur people. I think the State Department in the U.S. is also considering that as we speak. Something that comes to mind when it comes to Xinjiang is the importance or the use of surveillance technology. This is something that also figures prominently in your report and again, this is something that I would love to compare today to four years ago, if you could do that, because it seems to be such a central issue that might not necessarily be obvious to people and playing a key role in this repression that we just discussed.
Absolutely. I think that it was beginning to develop a few years ago, but you’re correct that it didn’t really feature in our previous report, and that shows that it has rapidly developed in the last few years. Key to the development of this have been the Chinese tech companies, well known brands like Huawei and Hikvision, that are directly complicit with creating this Orwellian surveillance state.
The extent of the technology is terrifying: the use of facial recognition technology, of drones, and other artificial intelligence. But that’s also combined with more traditional forms of surveillance that also continue: the use of informants, the CCP sending Han Chinese [CCP] officials to live in the houses of Uyghurs, those Uyghurs that aren’t in the prison camps, to monitor them 24 hours a day. So these crude traditional forms of personal surveillance mixed with the use and development of technology.
The fact that companies that are well known globally now, thankfully, many Western democracies are waking up to the dangers of Huawei and the others, but there are many countries that haven’t woken up to that, and we should not forget that these companies are directly at the heart of this surveillance state.
Mr. Jekielek: This technology, whether it’s Hikvision or Huawei, it’s not just deployed in China and presumably, can be used exactly the same way elsewhere.
Mr. Rogers: That’s exactly right. Firstly, the regime is, of course, transferring this technology to other brutal dictatorships, so that poses a danger in other repressive states. But of course, it can use that technology in Western free societies, and that poses a direct threat to our freedoms.
Mr. Jekielek: Ben, I asked this question of Secretary Pompeo in a recent interview. He was more bullish on this than I am personally. We have this EU-China trade deal that’s, as far as I can tell, moving full steam ahead unless there’s some kind of block in the European Council or something like that which occurs. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. With the knowledge that all of these realities are happening, that has me scratching my head. How does this work given even just the few realities that you laid out to me?
Mr. Rogers: Yes, it has me scratching my head as well, particularly as the announcement came just a few days after the European Parliament passed a resolution that called for access to Xinjiang to inspect the camps. It called for sanctions, targeted sanctions on those responsible for the atrocities against the Uyghurs. It called, crucially, for any further investment deals to have protections for labor rights and labor standards. Just a few days later, the EU went ahead with this deal with none of those things. Then, of course, the other thing that happened, I forget the exact timeframe, but just a matter of days beforehand, was the arrest of the 53 in Hong Kong.
Also it was a decision made when the US is in transition, and you would have thought the EU, as an ally of the United States, would not undermine either the relationship with the existing administration in its final days or undercut the new administration before it’s had a chance to make its position clear. So for all those reasons, it was an extraordinary decision for the EU to rush into. And it’s been roundly condemned by people like Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, who is a former EU Commissioner, as well as being the last governor of Hong Kong. He is usually not a critic of the EU. He’s one of the people in British politics, who’s very much a supporter of the EU, but he made comments that were quite rightly, extremely critical.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned the U.S. policy implications, or how this kind of decision might impact the EU’s relationship with the U.S. Let’s talk a little bit about U.S. policy, broadly speaking. Right now, roughly, the approach of the U.S. to the Chinese Communist Party is “distrust and verify.” That’s the three-word summary. How has U.S. policy changed in these last four years, or perhaps even further back?
Mr. Rogers: I think it’s changed significantly. Whatever other observations or criticisms of the outgoing president and administration people may have, the one policy area that I would really give him and the administration great credit for, is having the courage to see the danger of the Chinese regime, the repressiveness of that regime, and not just the courage to see that and to say so, but to change policy as a result. I really applaud many of the things that administration has done to move away from this naive idea that you can just engage with such a repressive regime behind closed doors only with words. Actually what you need to get the message across is punitive measures, the kind of sanctions that the U.S. has introduced. I hope very much that the new administration will continue that approach.
My impression from people I talk to in recent months in the United States, is that broadly, that will be the case. Perhaps one of the few areas of bipartisan consensus is on the China question. Perhaps the one difference in the Biden administration, and I’m a foreigner, so I speak with all humility on this, but my understanding is that perhaps the only change will be that the new administration may try to take a more multilateral approach, to try to build alliances with other democracies to stand together on this. I think that’s a good thing. I think the free world needs to stand together and form a united front to confront China’s United Front, as long as that isn’t a lowest-common-denominator approach, as long as it’s a robust approach. But yes, policy has changed significantly in recent years in the United States, and it’s starting to in other parts of the free world.
Mr. Jekielek: Then this goes back to the previous question: How can the US with its multiple direct approaches and sanctions collaborate with the EU, which, at least on the surface in my reading, appears to be making a major trade deal with no actual requirements, measurable requirements?
Mr. Rogers: Absolutely. The deal certainly is a setback. On the other hand—and it’s a slightly confusing situation, because around the same time as this deal, just slightly before, the European Parliament voted on legislation for targeted sanctions, what we might call Magnitsky-style sanctions, not in application to China, but as a piece of legislation in general that they can deploy against any human rights abusing regime that meets the criteria. That’s a very welcome step. Some of the statements that have come from some European leaders have been much more robust in the last year than was the case previously. So I think there is common ground. We need to find that common ground and recognize our common values of democracy and human rights, and try to find a way to work together to defend those values.
Mr. Jekielek: On this realm of multilateralism, I just came across a report today that reminded me that it appears that New Zealand is embracing China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” and through that stepping away from—I don’t know how well this would work—traditional alliances.
Mr. Rogers: Yes, that’s certainly very concerning, particularly at a time when its near neighbor and close friend Australia is A, taking a much more robust position and B, coming under unprecedented pressure from China for that. One of the things we ought to be doing much more of is standing with each other—particularly with countries that are not as wealthy and influential as the United States. [We should be] standing with our allies when they come under pressure. We ought to be walking absolutely in lockstep with Australia. It’s unfortunate that New Zealand appears to be taking that alternative position.
Mr. Jekielek: Something that’s really important to both you and I, and this is something that has been a centerpiece of the U.S. policy over the last four years, is this question of freedom of belief, freedom of religion, you described in the report as freedom of religion and belief, I’m not sure the exact distinction. You describe this as having gotten much, much worse over the last four years. You’ve described the Uyghur situation. Can you expand on this a little bit? It’s very important to me personally.
Mr. Rogers: Absolutely. There’s no doubt that the situation across the board for freedom of religion has deteriorated and continues to deteriorate very significantly. I would say it’s probably the worst time for religious freedom since the Cultural Revolution. That’s the case for Christians. We see growing numbers of churches over the last few years being destroyed, crosses torn down. In some cases, churches even blown up, dynamited.
And even the state-approved, state-controlled churches in some cases have been closed or destroyed. In other cases, [they] are coming under intense surveillance: surveillance cameras at the altar recording every worshipper that’s there; the imposition of CCP propaganda and portraits of Xi Jinping and other leaders alongside—or in some cases, even instead of—religious imagery; prohibition of people under the age of 18 from going to places of worship; and the list goes on.
That’s all in the context or with the backdrop of the Vatican having reached an agreement with the Chinese regime in 2018, which it renewed last year. That agreement was presumably designed with the intention of improving the situation, but the situation has absolutely worsened.
On top of that, the continued persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, intense repression of Tibetan Buddhism, and even your Taoists and other Buddhists throughout the country, some of their temples and places of worship have also been restricted or targeted. So it is across the board.
The other thing that also is important to say is that in the past, certainly more before Xi Jinping—whilst the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners was certainly directed at a national level under Jiang Zemin, in the case of Christians, for example—a lot of it was left to a provincial or local level. So you did see variations, depending on the attitude of the local authorities. There were national regulations, but they were implemented sometimes leniently, sometimes more harshly. You could see in some parts of China at that time that gatherings of Christians could take place as long as they weren’t in huge numbers and as long as they weren’t regarded as a threat to the authorities, if the authorities were a bit more lenient in attitude.
Today, policy across the board is very much directed from the center. Xi Jinping has taken part in a number of conferences and meetings on religion policy, issued a number of directives and speeches. That hard line, centralized approach has occurred under his leadership.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting. We, at the Epoch Times have charted over those last 21 years of the Falun Gong persecution, for example, how the technology has changed, and [how they] used Falun Gong practitioners effectively as a kind of crucible for developing these technologies, which they then applied full bore in Xinjiang, and as I understand it, Tibet as well, to basically persecute these discrete geographical populations.
Mr. Rogers: That’s right, but I think there’s also signs that they’re rolling that out throughout the country. One of the people who gave evidence to us for this inquiry and described Xinjiang as the laboratory for repressive surveillance. So yes, it’s absolutely most repressively deployed in Xinjiang and in Tibet, but I think that’s with a view to rolling it out throughout the country. The person who gave that evidence, he actually titled his submission to our inquiry, “Virtual Gulag,” and the meaning is clear in both those words.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s interesting. I recently took it upon myself to reread “The Gulag Archipelago,” such an important work to understand the reality of communist regimes. This is now a little bit of my commentary, but as I’m reading it, I’m seeing analogies not even just in authoritarian regimes where things could be going the wrong way, even in democracies.
Mr. Rogers: Absolutely. Technology brings so many benefits to it—the ability to communicate ideas, good ideas, on social media, the ability to use technology to try to track and constrain the virus during this pandemic. But equally, it can be hugely misused to silence dissent, and to stir debate in an unhelpful way. So it is a worrying time in that regard.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the areas that you focus on in the report is the forced organ harvesting, this murder for organs business in China. For the uninitiated, we’ve talked about this before. It’s something I’ve reported on since 2006, when we first realized that it was real and not the crazy idea that it sounds like it should be. How has our understanding of the reality of this murder for organs business in China changed over the last four years?
Mr. Rogers: I think it’s changed quite significantly. When we carried out our inquiry in 2016, that was the first time that I was presented with detailed evidence. Obviously the evidence was there prior to that, but it was the first time I’d really encountered it. I would admit that I was probably myself—I didn’t dismiss it—but I was certainly a bit skeptical because the claims were so, so shocking.
But the more I talked to people who had done expert research in this, the more credible I found them to be. So we, in our inquiry in 2016, after hearing it in our first inquiry, we then held a separate second inquiry, specifically on forced organ harvesting. We were, as a commission, convinced by what we heard and came out with a short report and started raising this with the British government and others.
Then of course, there was the China Tribunal chaired by Geoffrey Nice, QC, a man who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic. [He] knows atrocity crimes when he sees them and is not someone who’s going to be easily persuaded by unconvincing evidence. Plus, I would say about that tribunal, that the panel members were all very distinguished leaders and experts in their field, but none of them were people who had a prior agenda on human rights in China.
In fact, most of them had no prior involvement in China and certainly not with the issue of organ harvesting, or with Falun Gong. They came out with this incredibly strong judgment, convinced that forced organ harvesting continues to happen, and that it’s a crime against humanity. I think that tribunal, although it hasn’t resulted yet in the kind of policy change at a government level that I would hope still to see, I think it has changed the debate. It’s made it much harder for skeptics to dismiss the claims.
We summarize the tribunal judgment in this latest report. We’ll continue to call for international action. I would also say the growing evidence of forced organ harvesting, not only from Falun Gong practitioners, but from Uyghurs and others—I think all of that strengthens the case, and it makes it really irrefutable, or certainly very difficult to refute for someone who’s particularly skeptical.
Mr. Jekielek: From reading in the report, and I didn’t realize this earlier, I understand that Sir Geoffrey Nice, because of the successful work of the China Tribunal, is now going to be convening a similar tribunal on the Uyghur question, is that right?
Mr. Rogers: That’s correct. He’s been asked by the Uyghur community to carry that out, to address specifically the question of whether what’s happening amounts to genocide because increasingly, people are saying that it is. But again, as with the forced organ harvesting issue, there are skeptics. In a way, that’s understandable because genocide is an extremely strong and a very specific legal term. Although I think the indicators of genocide are pretty substantial, it’s very welcome that a group of legal experts are going to look at it and answer the question from a legal point of view.
Mr. Jekielek: I’m just remembering from reading the China Tribunal report, they were looking at the question of whether this forced organ harvesting constitutes a genocide against Falun Gong practitioners. They concluded not necessarily because there’s this huge profit motive, because of the scale of the harvesting and it makes it a billion-dollar industry. This juxtaposition, I didn’t know what I should think at this moment because what do you say to that? It’s almost genocide but because of the profit motive, it’s not just pure wholesale destruction.
Mr. Rogers: Yes, and I can understand that, and that’s why I think it’s important to hold, if you like, two positions in tandem. The first is that if something is a genocide, we should call it by its name and that’s why I think we should demand of the international community that it answers the question: Is what’s happening to the Uyghurs a genocide?
But on the other hand, any legal judgment that says, perhaps it’s not quite a genocide in legal terms, certainly doesn’t excuse us from recognizing it as a set of extremely egregious, grave, atrocities, crimes, and “crimes against humanity” is probably the other term that one should use in international law. So if a genocide determination in legal terms isn’t made, that certainly shouldn’t let anyone off the hook. These are the worst possible crimes, whatever name you give to them. But if they do meet the criteria of genocide, then we should name it as such.
Mr. Jekielek: I have to talk about this. I’ve avoided doing this for years. I have a father-in-law that’s a Holocaust survivor. As I said, we’ve made this film about him, and I’m aware of the sensitivities of the issue of the Holocaust. But the more I think about the Chinese Communist regime, there are just so many parallels to the realities of the Nazi regime, including all these Western companies working with that regime back in the 30s and 40s, and frankly, through the war even. This is a touchy area. I don’t know if you want to comment on this.
Mr. Rogers: I think I’d make two comments. I think there are certainly parallels with the Nazi period but there are equally parallels of course with the Soviet era, especially Stalin and Stalin’s gulag. So I think we should be careful about aligning it to one particular horrific, repressive dictatorship in time when it has parallels with a number of them.
But where I think the analogy is particularly strong, and you’ve said this, is the complicity of Western companies, which you didn’t have with the Soviet Union. In fact, there was a debate about a year ago that was introduced in the British Parliament by Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative Party, who in fact has endorsed our report and has been very outspoken on these issues. He made the point that actually, if we knew that at the time in the Holocaust that German corporations were providing the cameras, or the fencing, or the other equipment in Auschwitz, would we be doing business with them?
We probably were [doing business with them], but I’m not sure we would have if we’d been more conscious at the time, and certainly, we weren’t doing that with Soviet companies that were building Stalin’s gulag. So I think that there is a parallel there and that’s where we need more pressure on Western corporations to make sure that either [they] stop doing business with this regime or at a minimum, to make sure that their supply chains, as far as possible, are not built on slave labor and that we’re not using technology from these Chinese tech companies that are at the heart of the Orwellian surveillance system.
Mr. Jekielek: Ben, you mentioned you’re an advocate for multilateralism, basically working with some of these international institutions, multiple countries working together to form this united front. One of the things that’s actually mentioned in your report, which I think is incredibly important, is the Chinese Communist Party’s subversion of multilateral institutions like multiple agencies of the UN.
China’s sitting on top of the UN Human Rights Council, which a lot of human rights activists see as a complete affront to the organization. And not the only human rights abuser, I think there’s many, many of them there. Tell me about this. How has China subverted the multilateral organizations? You describe it as the rules-based order in the world. Then we can talk a bit more about what to do.
Mr. Rogers: Well, the subversion is certainly extensive. I don’t have the figures on hand, but a significant number of Chinese Communist Party officials have taken up key positions in the UN bureaucracy, as well as the things you’ve already mentioned, their seats on the Human Rights Council and their influence over the World Health Organization. We’ve seen that in the course of the pandemic, even having within the period that we were carrying out this inquiry or the period that we were looking at, China had the head of Interpol. They managed to just disappear the head of Interpol, which was quite an extraordinary thing.
So it’s definitely extensive. We’ve seen at the UN, for example, China’s influence in being able to veto NGOs [non-government organizations] that it doesn’t like, human rights organizations, from having representative status at the UN.
We’ve seen multiple times, Chinese delegates at the Human Rights Council trying to cut off or silence human rights critics, during the various dialogues that take place between NGOs and member states. We even see intimidation at the Human Rights Council of China-focused human rights groups. The Chinese delegation comes and photographs them or harasses them. These things have been going on for some time.
My own view is two things really. First, that however flawed and bad the system is, it’s in the interest of the free and democratic world to get back in there and take it back and take influence back, rather than just cede that influence to China where they can continue to wreak havoc. That’s not going to be easy, but I think it’s worth trying.
The second thing I would say is that multilateralism shouldn’t be at the expense of unilateral action, where that’s necessary and justified and the only option. In other words, I think I said earlier, it shouldn’t be the lowest common denominator. We should try to work together with allies across free countries, as much as possible, but that shouldn’t excuse the countries from taking their own action, where that’s necessary.
Mr. Jekielek: I have to mention this. We published a report today looking at various FARA filings, the Foreign Agent Registration Act filings here in the US. Since 2009, there were 120 journalists across 50 news organizations, our journalists found, that were wined and dined by the China United States Exchange Foundation, which is run by a Chinese Communist Party agent, and basically part of the United Front operation to make the western journalists and media as friendly as possible to the regime.
This isn’t just happening in the US, I’m sure. There are other reports of a similar nature. Frankly we’re seeing this kind of thing—this is just the journalism profession. This is across the board in academia, in local government, in national government. You’ve heard about Christine Fang infiltrating congressional offices, it goes on and on. How does the west, the UK, Canada, the US, deal with this ever present infiltration and subversion?
Mr. Rogers: It’s particularly well documented in a book, I’m sure you’re very familiar with, called “Hidden Hand” which really details the extent of this across the democratic world. I should say, I’ve had my own very small experience of this in that I’ve had at least four different British members of parliament on four different occasions telling me that they have been directly lobbied by the Chinese embassy to tell me to stop doing what I’m doing, to tell me to stop speaking.
To their credit, all four members of parliament made it clear to me that they were not telling me to stop doing what I’m doing. They were just alerting me to the fact that they had been lobbied. So if that’s going on just with me, I wonder what the full extent of it is.
In terms of what to do, I think it’s not an easy balance to achieve because, on the one hand, I think we’ve been naive. We’ve had our heads in the sand for too long. That’s how we’re in this situation. On the other hand, we can’t seriously say that we’re going to exclude all Chinese students. Well, we could, but I don’t think it would be the right path to say we’re going to exclude all Chinese students, or we’re going to cut off all ties with China, or we’re going to expel any Chinese person.
The danger with that is it plays into the Chinese regime’s narrative about the West, which is that this is an anti-China or sinophobic attitude. I think we need to be very clear that [it’s] far from being anti-the people of China. I’m deeply pro-China as a country, as a people, as a culture. I’ve spent most of my adult life in and around China, have many Chinese friends. [I] speak a few words of Chinese and write a few Chinese characters, but not much more than that.
The point is, we must send the message to the people of China that we are pro-them, we’re anti-the Chinese Communist Party regime. So to get that message across, and to get that balance, I think we need to navigate this quite carefully. We should look into more stringent background checks and security checks. We should look at whether we have Chinese students studying in our universities who are studying certain disciplines that could be advantageous to the Chinese state in terms of technology and so on.
And crucially, we should look at institutions like the Confucius Institutes and other bodies that are part of the regime’s propaganda apparatus. We should stand up for our values in our academic institutions and other bodies. We will talk to the Chinese, but we should not allow ourselves to be compromised by … funding or entertainment.
I know one or two individuals who on other issues have taken—in other parts of the world—a very good and strong line on human rights, but who happened to have been given an honorary professorship at Beijing University. The moment they’re given that their ego is flattered, and they lose all sense of defending their values. So, we need to be much more robust at resisting those sort of temptations and defend our values.
There’s a lot of thought and detail that needs to go into how to navigate that balance and how to communicate that message that we’re for the people of China. We need to defend our freedoms and national security and stand up for theirs against the Chinese regime.
Mr. Jekielek: I agree with you. I think this is an incredibly difficult question and I look forward to seeing policy with teeth, so to speak, being developed further in the UK and Canada, I hope in the U.S. ongoing. So you mentioned the “Hidden Hand.” The publisher of the “Hidden Hand” is organizing a panel along with one of the think tanks that I often look to in Canada, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. You’re going to be on it tomorrow. Tell me about this panel, what are we going to see there?
Mr. Rogers: It’s a very extensive panel looking at the whole question of human rights in China. It follows a panel that we had last September that looked specifically at Hong Kong. It’s a panel that brings together a number of activists from China. There’s a Uyghur speaker, there’s a very prominent Chinese dissidents lawyer, but also politicians from across the world, and academics and experts.
Crucially, I think one of the things that’s very interesting about it is that it includes a very bipartisan range of speakers. Personally, I’m a human rights activist and I work in a very bipartisan way but obviously, I’m also in the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. This panel is taking place tomorrow, the day after [we] have launched this report.
On the same panel are the leader of the German Green Party in the European Parliament, Reinhard Bütikofer, who is a tremendously vocal and strong advocate for human rights in China, and the British Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for Asia, Stephen Kinnock, who equally has been very courageous in speaking out on these issues, and Carolyn Bartholomew, who’s Nancy Pelosi’s former Chief of Staff and holds a key position in a congressional commission. She’s the chair of one of the commissions on China.
So it really is a bipartisan mix, and I think the bipartisan message and the international or multilateral message are the two messages that need to be heard in Beijing. Beijing is not going to divide us—or shouldn’t be able to divide us—by country or by political preference. We all stand on the side of freedom and human rights, and if we can get that message across and use that platform to strengthen an alliance across the free world to confront a growing danger of the CCP, then it will be very valuable to our panel.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re going to finish up shortly. Any final thoughts before we do? Once again, give me the bottom line on China under the Chinese Communist Party right now and what people should know?
Mr. Rogers: I think the bottom line is that China has gone significantly backwards under Xi Jinping in respect to human rights. No one is safe in China now. We see that with even Jack Ma [co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group], we’re not sure where he is and what’s happened to him.
The Chinese Communist Party has always been, of course, very repressive but ten, twenty years ago, there was a degree of space. There were human rights lawyers who could take up human rights cases. Of course, they were under pressure but they had a certain space to do what they did. Christians had a certain space if they didn’t step over the line. That space is gone now. The red lines that used to exist are no longer there and nobody has any freedom at all in China, and I think the free world needs to wake up to that.
I hope that this report that we’ve published will serve not just as a wake-up call and a set of recommendations for the British government and politicians here but actually, for other governments as well, that it will show that the repression is so comprehensive, so pervasive, affecting everybody in China, and not just affecting people in China, but affecting people beyond China’s borders as well. The sooner we wake up to that … I think people are waking up to it, but we need to act fast before it’s too late.
Mr. Jekielek: Final question: why does it matter to the fellow sitting watching in the UK, sitting watching in the US, sitting watching in Canada, that doesn’t interact with China very much in any way?
Mr. Rogers: I think it matters in a number of ways. First of all, do you really want to be buying clothes or car parts, or computers or telephones that have been made by not just slave labor, but as we’ve talked in this program, people who are in a situation that has parallels with the Holocaust? If we know that’s happening, do we want to be doing that? Most ordinary people anywhere in the free world would answer that question, “No.” Of course, we want our clothes and our computers and so on. But we want them to be made ethically and not by such horrific and extensive slave labor.
Secondly, do we want to defend our freedoms? Do we believe in our liberties? If we do, then we need to recognize that they’re threatened by this regime. They’re threatened by the regime most immediately by infiltration, by the use of technology and surveillance.
But further down the line, if we don’t stand up to what this regime is doing to the Uyghurs, its dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong, its total breach of an international treaty in Hong Kong—if we allow them to get away with breaking international treaties with no consequences— then, not only is Taiwan going to be next, but after Taiwan, they’re not going to stop there. For that reason, it’s in our interest to stand up.
Again, to draw a parallel with the period of history that we’ve touched on a number of times, we see what happens, what the consequences are when we don’t respond early on—Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and then we found ourselves in a world war. Now, I’m neither advocating nor predicting a world war. But I think that history shows the trajectory is there if we allow such a regime to continue on with impunity, and not just with impunity, but with our own complicity. Sooner or later, the consequences are clear, and that’s why we need to act.
Mr. Jekielek: Benedict Rogers, such a pleasure to have you on again.
Mr. Rogers: Thank you very much.
On Thursday Jan. 14, Benedict Rogers took part in the McDonald Laurier Institute‘s “A Way Forward, Part II: Defending Human Rights In China” panel. You can watch it at this link below:
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.