A Human Right Based Approach to China

Martin Edobor discusses why it is imperative that the UK implement ethical foreign policies in relation to China.

In June 1997 the official handover ceremony that would see Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China took place. Without conflict, the land and its peoples was transferred from one nation to another.

To protect those peoples, who had been entitled to a British passport prior to the handover of Hong Kong, the UK and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This laid the foundation of the “one country, two systems” framework allowing the people of Hong Kong to continue to enjoy human rights, rule of law and self-determination they had enjoyed under British rule

However with the recent passing of a new national security law by China, the social contract between the UK and the people of Hong Kong is under threat.  This authoritarian piece of legislation grants the Chinese state huge sweeping powers, to detain any Hong Kong citizen deemed to be “endangering national security”.  Amnesty International argues the legislation threatens the human rights and dignity of the Hong Kong people.

Our government responded to the Chinese national security law by altering the UK’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong, while offering residency rights and a pathway to citizenship to people in Hong Kong who hold British National (Overseas) passports. A positive step but these small changes are merely tweaking the nose of Beijing - the UK government must do more to show we are serious about upholding international law.

Shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy made the case for a policy of "constructive engagement and strategic independence" at a Fabian Society Virtual event in June. Arguing for the need to engage with Beijing on climate change and Hong Kong’s sovereignty. This engagement must not be at the expense of our morals and principles, but be in aid of them.

The Labour Party has moved to take a bolder stance on China, compared to the previous leadership. Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Stephen Kinnock made the case that China is presenting the model of responsive authoritarian government as a viable alternative to democracy and liberal-rights based order. We must use our considerable soft power and foriegn policy expertise to make the case for liberal representative democracy, but this case can only be made when we begin to match the economic assistance that China has provided to the region and around the world.

No one wants another cold war, but the best way to avoid it is through the UK out and about in the world making the case for our values and principles. At a time when we could retreat into a Brexit induced period of naval gazing, Labour must make the case for a strong economic and social interventionist approach to the world's problems. We are a world leading cultural, legal and economic hub - this expertise should be used to ensure that progressive social liberal policies are promoted across the world.

Protecting human rights and the environment should be at the centre of our approach to China. An ethical foreign policy is a moral imperative, the people of Hong Kong and the Uyghur minority need both our solidarity and action.

Dr Martin Edobor is the Clinical Director for North Newham Primary Care Network and Vice-Chair of the Fabian Society. He was the Labour PPC for Witham in 2019 and is the former Chair of the Young Fabians (2015-2016) 

He tweets at @martinedobor.

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